Charlene Li Part 3 – Are you an open leader?

This post is part of our Summer of Buzz series.  Haven’t registered yet?  Don’t delay!

In this third part of Ben Whitford’s interview (here’s part 1, and here’s part 2), Charlene Li talks about the traits of open leadership. Who is an open leader? Does openness need to be a directive from the C-suite, or can it bubble up from the bottom? Here’s what Charlene had to say.

Ben: What traits mark a good “open leader”? How important are factors like emotional intelligence? Curiosity? Humility? What can leaders do to make their own management style more open? You talk about four archetypes of open leadership — are there “right” or “wrong” ways to be an open leader? Can you give me an example of a great “open leader”?

Charlene: Emotional intelligence is important because we’re talking about relationships that need to be nurtured over a period of time. Curiosity is at the core of many open leaders’ mindsets–they constantly seek out new ways to think about the world around them and are eager learners. And they also have a strong sense of humility, that they have and will continue to make mistakes and that they are surrounded by multitudes of people smarter and more capable than themselves.

I describe four archtetypes of open leaders, ranging from Worried Skeptics and Cautious Testers to Transparent Evangelists and Realist Optimists. In the book, I lay out why Realist Optimists are essential for moving an organization toward greater openness–and inevitably, people want to see themselves as the one who fill that important role. But there is no absolute “goodness†when it comes to being an open leader–an accurate self-assessment of our innate mindsets is more important than landing in the right category! That’s because an honest evaluation of how you view openness is needed if you are to accurately plan out how you will be open. If you fundamentally have a pessimistic view of what people do when they have power, you will need to put in place more guidelines and processes (basically, more closely define the sandbox covenant) than a more optimistic leader.

Ben: Is this something that needs to come from the C-suite? Does this sort of systemic change have to come from the top? What can social media teams do to promote broader open leadership at their company, or to secure C-suite buy-in? Can open leadership come from the bottom up?

Charlene: Open leadership can and does exist at all levels of the organization. In fact, people can be open leaders without any official title, budget, or direct reports. That’s because the power of an open leader comes from relationships built by broad information sharing and shared decision making.

But I do believe that for an organization to be open, the C-suite has to be involved to bring about the cultural change that’s needed to support greater openness. One key way is to show executives the benefit and value of listening to and learning from customers and employees. Once they see that they can not only get real-time feedback but also deep, strategic insights implied by listening and talking with customers, they are usually hooked. So do a search on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to see what customers are saying about the company, product, or service.

Two parts left in this interview. The next part deals with managing risk and failure. And don’t forget to register for the June 16 breakfast where Charlene will talk about Open Leadership in person–not that you would forget, but still. 😉

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