This post is part of our Summer of Buzz series. Haven’t registered yet? Only a few days left!
Here is the final part of Ben Whitford’s interview with Charlene Li. (Here’s part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.) In this installment, Charlene 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 does open leadership mean for the notion of leadership itself? You talk about the importance of distributed decision-making, and the way that it’s a natural extension of information openness. But if anyone can blog or tweet, and thereby become leaders, does it still matter whose name is on the door of the corner office? How should bosses cope with this (and nurture open leadership in others) without feeling challenged/threatened? Does the real threat to a leader’s authority comes if they opt out and let this process continue without them?
Charlene: There’s a difference between leadership–inspiring people toward a common goal–and authority, which is the right to make decisions based on a title. Bosses need to acknowledge that leadership now comes in many different forms, and that people with little authority can quickly become effective leaders because of their mastery of being open–especially with the advent of social technologies.
The only way for them to not feel threatened by this new type of leadership is to be able to harness it for their own purposes and uses. So yes, they will feel most powerless when they decide not to engage. But compared to the â€œold wayâ€ of leading, it will still feel uncomfortable to not be in complete control.
Ben: How can leaders use social technologies to improve openness? Should every CEO have a personal blog or Twitter feed? Should bosses force themselves to look beyond their comfort zone? How can leaders use social media to create and moderate their own personal authenticity and authority? Can you give an example?
Charlene: I would never dictate that every executive needs to be on Twitter or have a blog! Executives should understand how being more open can help them achieve key strategic goals–and then consider if any social technologies can help them become more open in those areas. For example, if a key goal is to develop greater customer loyalty, the CEO may feel he or she needs to give regular updates on the company’s direction, and use a blog or video podcast to help with this.
So linking the use of social technologies to a specific goal is crucial to success. But many executives have undeveloped or flabby â€œsharing musclesâ€ –they simply aren’t very good at it! Authenticity in particular is a hard to develop because you can’t just â€œbe authenticâ€ –you have to earn it. For example, Chris Pratley was one of Microsoft’s first bloggers but nobody perceived him as being authentic because he was a product manager at Microsoft–and they couldn’t possibly be authentic about wanting to develop a real dialog! Chris had to earn his authenticity by demonstrating his intent. He sought out and accepted criticism. He incorporated suggestions into the product he managed. And participated honestly and openly with commenters on his blog.
So there you have it: the push and pull between leadership and authority…between openness and authenticity…between change and status quo. For me, the one major unanswered question in terms of association leadership is the difficult balance between industry leaders, member/volunteer leaders, and staff leaders. Will openness make that balance easier to achieve, or even more politicized than it already is? What are the unique challenges we face as organizations built with the assumption that a large portion of our leadership will flow from deeply passionate (and usually unpaid) volunteers? I can’t wait for the discussion to unfold.