Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Be Open, Be Transparent, Be Authentic

Written by: on November 20, 2014

Transparency is difficult, especially for those from an older or more conservative generation. I recall reading [somewhere] that it was a sitcom television episode some fifty years ago that dared to enact a personal, private bedroom scene that signaled a new openness in Western society and culture. I would say that one scene would not change social order, but in the mind of this author, it was a preemptive moment that anticipated the movement from a private, closeted social order to an open, indiscreet, and very public social order. Peter Drucker in the book Post-Capitalist Society provides one of first books that addressed the knowledge and information transition that foreshadowed the transparent social society of the twenty-first century. Drucker sees the cultural transition being spawned by the availability and acquisition of knowledge by the blue-collar middle class of the industrial age[1]; in fact, he is explicit in defining the starting point. It was the G. I. Bill of Rights following World War II that opened the door of education to the masses as never before. I personally can relate to this because without the G. I. Bill, I probably would not have had access to an under-graduate education.

Drucker defines the “knowledge worker” as the capital of a new social, economic and political era. He states, “The economic challenge of the post-capitalist society [is] the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker” and it requires “knowledge executives who know how to allocate knowledge to productive use.”[2] Power and control, according to Drucker, exists in tension within the “dichotomy … between ‘intellectuals’ and ‘managers,’ the former concerned with words and ideas, the latter with people and work.”[3]It is the managers who understand the knowledge worker and are able to build constructive relationships that will be effective and successful in a knowledge driven society.

If we make a corollary between knowledge and information, Drucker prophetically describes the information society we live in today. Information technology has transformed the social, religious, economic, and political order from both a local and global perspective. Learning how to productively utilize information and the workers (virtually everyone) who understand, control and create the technology that distributes information, is an essential element of leadership in an information driven society. Author Charlene Li in Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, portrays this as “a culture of sharing[4] Managing information through social technology requires the shifting and sharing of power and control.

Li promotes the central concept of her book at the Open Leadership website:

‘Be Open, Be Transparent, Be Authentic’ are the current leadership mantras – but companies often push back. Traditionally business is premised on the concept of control and yet the new world order demands openness. Open Leadership … offers the next step resource that shows leaders how to tap into the power of the social technology revolution and use social media to be “open” while maintaining control. … [O]penness requires more — not less — rigor and effort than being in control.”[5]

Li presents a progressive approach to understanding and engaging the impact and use of social technology. The action plans that conclude each step in the process provide a path to assessing where an organization’s leadership is in allowing the openness needed to implement social media technology and the willingness to become an open organization. The most fundament step, the place an organization must begin, is to realize that social technology has changed the leadership role of executives and an open, inclusive style of leadership is necessary. Li notes “that there has been a fundamental shift in power, one in which individuals have the ability to broadcast their views to the world.”[6] The result is the organization’s leaders must recognize “they are not in control” rather the “customers, employees, and partners are” in control.[7] Taking this initial step allows the organization to assess where, how, and the effective path to structure an open, sharing leadership.

Understanding the rules of open leadership and the elements of openness to creating trust through transparent and authentic leadership, Li’s concepts are straight forward, yet deep and comprehensive. A key to understanding and implementing open leadership is the wealth of examples Li uses to illustrate and give credibility to the concepts and practice of openness in leadership.

As I perused the chapters and highlighted the concepts and practices, I liked most the “open-driven objectives” to learn, dialogue, support, and innovate. The organization should be proactive, seeking to engage and involve the whole organization by encouraging dialogue.[8]  As Li notes there are road-blocks to having open dialogue but the outcome is worth the intentional effort with the key being relationships that “are more long-term focused, personal, and intimate.”[9] Building inclusive, long term relationships allows open leadership to be broad based by relating across the total spectrum of the organization; this effort is illustrated through the “engagement pyramid”[10] that encourages and mentors openness.

It is easy to fear social technology. Perhaps the greatest deterrent is the transparency that is necessary and the ease to misunderstand or misinterpret an electronic contact. Through social media we do develop an online personality that can “come off” more different than one’s traditional face-to-face personality. Although this is true in all organizations, I feel it is especially difficult for the church. A voice that misstates, misunderstands, or misrepresents cannot be easily counteracted or corrected or even engaged when it has gone out through social media.

[1] Peter Drucker, Post-Capitalist Society (New York, NY: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1993), 8.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Frisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 2010), Kindle, 309.

[5] Charlene Li, “Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead” http://www.charleneli.com/research/open-leadership/ (accessed November 19, 2014).

[6] Li, Open Leadership, 320.

[7] Ibid., 360.

[8] Ibid., chapter 3.

[9] Ibid., 1100.

[10] Ibid.

About the Author


7 responses to “Be Open, Be Transparent, Be Authentic”

  1. John Woodward says:

    If there is anyone who impresses me with their ability to learn and move with modern technology in their “second half of life,” it is you! Your post does a wonderful job of highlighting the move to a more “open” society through educational and technological opportunities today. I am curious to see how much age does play a role in these issues discussed in this book. For the younger generations it seems that social media brings little fear or discomfort (and often little thought of the consequences). I rarely post anything on Facebook or Twitter because I still am of that mindset that not everyone needs to know everything I am doing and frankly it makes me uncomfortable posting about ME!

    As you point out, there is a huge danger in all of this, especially the ability to be understood, let alone create real harm. I know in my church, our leaders are always fending off criticism from probably good intentioned Christians who find fault with what they are doing and find ways of sharing that on out in the blogosphere. But on a local level, I see that more people in more churches feel a need to have their voices heard, to have their leadership accessible, and to be able to provide critique for what is going on. Sometimes this is good…other times it is wearing on the leaders. In your church work, have you had to deal with this sort of issue? How do we balance in church our role as leaders called to guide and direct with the modern tendency to question and critic everything? I think that this struggle to hear and be responsive to so many voices now might be a cause for minister burnout! Curious to know how you see these issues happening in your church.

    As always, a wonderful and helpful blog post! Thanks, Ron.

  2. rhbaker275 says:

    Thanks, I share much of your thinking. I am very comfortable with the computer/technology but I have always said, “I am a user.” It can get the best of me quite easily. I am not comfortable with social technology. I have a Facebook and Twitter account but like you, I seldom post or tweet for much the same reason you note. I tend to be too transparent in email, consequently to many words and that generally is not good.

    We did have a very unfortunate incident in our congregation where a younger mother posted with some language – blanked out spaces in words with obvious meaning – that upset an older person. It got ugly but fortunately staff was able to overcome the differences; there is still some hurt. There were some very bad hurt feelings and a real breakdown in trust. Our congregation is a maturing group – probably around 60% over 55 – they are using FB social network – not much else. We have not done anything to help our people understand social network use and no one is maintaining our church’s FB page. We have no policy or guidelines; I expect this needs to change. I think a class or leadership conference on this would be good.

    I do like the news streams and I encourage our people to subscribe to the home church news page (http://chognews.org/articles/); if you go to this site and scroll down, there is an article on our Faith Promise conference. It is a great way to stay connected. Twitter is also a good way to follow news and get access to blog pages; it allows choice without overload; Twitter, I think is better than Facebook. No one in our congregation has Twitter.
    Thanks, John

  3. Deve Persad says:

    Hey there Ron, I appreciate your engagement with this material. You are indeed a model of some of the changes that Li talks about. You have demonstrated a willingness to test and try these new social media platforms and we are the beneficiaries. You mention: “Understanding the rules of open leadership and the elements of openness to creating trust through transparent and authentic leadership”. The quest for authenticity is not new, but as you observe it is pushed to another sphere by new technology. My thought is that it is impossible to be fully transparent to everyone at all times, as not everyone can handle all the information we, as a church leaders carry. Nor should they. However, knowing how to be authentic in each relationships is a necessary challenge and one that must be measured carefully before engaging. To church leaders, my question is always, what are they trying to control and why do they feel they need to control it? I don’t expect an answer, but it worth thinking about, isn’t it?

    • rhbaker275 says:

      Thanks … it is necessary to keep learning with the mindset that once something is learned – the learning is to some extent immediately obsolete. As an example in IT, I will never forget that sometime in the eighties I bought my first MS-DOS machine, I had several TRS-DOS machines (For that younger illiterate generation Tandy Radio Shack Disk Operating System, the first consumer friendly and affordable computer). I brought that shinny new machine into my office and I clearly thought (said to my wife), this is the last computer I will ever have to buy. My spread sheets were automated, I could type and correct my contracts and print them, and manage my inventory! Truly an amazing moment. How things change. It wasn’t long and I bought the next generation … and the next …

      I have not tried to just “keep up” – that is consumerism. I bought my first portable telephone, the size and weight of the average car battery, and toted it from construction site to site because of the increased productivity it brought to me. I need to view the possibilities of social technology the same way – however it is a little harder to measure the outcomes. It is, I am sure, a significant element in the decline in church attendance – but how do you measure the response when the message is openly discussed in the technical social medium? I must keep trying, learning…

  4. Ron…
    You know you keep adding to the list of books that should be in my reading library (or at the very least on my list!).

    You mentioned that from your perspective Twitter is better than Facebook. In reading that I realized that I use both mediums differently. Facebook is the social place — I have connected with high school friends (and even people from high school that I was not friends with are now FB friends) as well as from a work standpoint staying aware of any student issues or concerns (because they go their first). Twitter, on the other hand, provides me with place or site to go to – to read, for education. It’s a soundbite that takes me someplace else.

    What I am wondering, what does reading Open Leadership mean for your engagement with social technologies? Are you considering implementing the take-aways from our reading to cultivate and develop relationships?

    Thanks Ron for your thoughtful words and insights!

  5. Julie Dodge says:

    As a Drucker fan, I appreciated your inclusion of his work in your post, Ron. I found your post critical and thoughtful in how we figure out how to live in “this new world”. I also was struck that while this is the world and communication methods of today, tomorrow it may be very different and we have to be willing to not only catch up to today, but remain open and flexible to the future. I think of how the printing press transformed society and that was the huge big deal for centuries. Then came the internet, which brought some change. And then KABOOM! In the last five years social media has exploded. And I anticipate continued rapid change. In the mid-90’s I came across a book titled “Blur” which basically said that in the new millennium, right about the time we start to implement change in one area, it will be time to change again. The days of stable processes have come – and perhaps passed. We should be prepared to be in constant flux. Which is just a wee bit different from a generation or two ago, when people worked the same job/company until they retired, while today’s millennials work 5-7 jobs in a decade. And describe that as the way to learn and advance. Not much is static anymore.

  6. Clint Baldwin says:

    Learn, dialogue, support, and innovate.
    Wonderful principles from Li to organizationally (and personally) live by.
    Indeed important, but as you note also difficult.

    One point that you make that I agree with overall, but that uses language that’s a bit hard for me to swallow is this:
    “Learning how to productively utilize information and the workers (virtually everyone) who understand, control and create the technology that distributes information, is an essential element of leadership in an information driven society.”
    It’s a small thing, but for me the use of “utilize” and “workers (people)” together — utilizing people — echoes of the depersonalizing aspects of industrialization/modernism. I know you don’t mean this, but it reminds of a “cogs in the machine,” “assembly line” approach.
    It’s funny how language can strike us a certain way in a moment.
    Of course, beyond the specificity of the language, what you write fully makes sense. Finding healthy organizational fit for a person is necessary in order for the person to be as helpful as possible to the company where they are working and for the person to feel as personally good as possible about their work too.

    Thanks again for the post, Ron. So good.

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