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

Open Leadership and an Open Secret

Written by: on November 21, 2014

Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead by Charlene Li is an excellent text that does exactly what it says it will do in its title. The book explores how social technology has paved the way for leaders to be more open in their leadership style and with organization functioning. As well, this open leadership approach applies not only to for-profit business, but really to any organization.


Li offers lots of strategies and case studies to underscore them throughout the book. However, one of the most important pieces that I found in the book was her recognition of the fact that open policies need open leaders. It will come as no surprise to virtually anyone that personnel who are charged with various aspects of the implementation of company growth/marketing strategies have found themselves stymied in the past (and currently) by upper-level management who find it difficult and/or are unwilling to let go of control/privacy (however detrimental and/or illusory) even as their intransigence harms company morale and fiscal bottom-line.


Li’s book adroitly and even presciently names some of the issues that leaders are having with the idea of an open leadership oriented company strategy. For instance, she notes that “empowered people and organizations are stressing out today’s leaders.”[1] I agree with this. However, we typically think of empowerment as a fully positive word. Yet, in the case of this sentence, I would at least like to note on behalf of leaders that there are some “empowered” unhealthy people whose voices have been given a proverbial bullhorn magnifying the impact of their inanity. Of course, as I agreed at first, there are also some companies led by less than salutary leaders who need a calling-out by a healthy populace that is empowered.


Yet, this stress the leaders are experiencing is partly because they have admirably said “yes” to the idea of open engagement in various forms. But then the thought and question becomes for leaders, “I am responsible, so I have to have control. But if you are telling me to be open and give up control, then what is my role?”[2] Li responds,

“This is the crux of the problem: these new relationships are forcing leaders to rethink how they lead and how to get people to follow…Leadership requires a new approach, new mind-set, and new skills. It isn’t enough to be a good communicator. You must be comfortable sharing personal perspectives and feelings to develop closer relationships…And it is not sufficient to just be humble. You need to seek out opportunities to be humbled each and every day—to be touched as much by the people who complain as by those who say ‘Thank you.’”[3]

This all leads back to an earlier statement from Li, “So put aside the calls to be more transparent, authentic and—my favorite— to be ‘real.’ The question isn’t whether you will be authentic, transparent, and real, but rather, how much will you let go and be open in the face of new technologies. Transparency, authenticity, and the sense that you are being real are the by-products of your decision to be open.”[4] That is, Li is saying to some extent to worry less about what your role will be; this will become apparent as you step into the decision to more widely engage with your constituency. And in case you were wondering if you still have a choice whether or not to engage in such “open leadership,” Li has a whole piece on “Greater Openness is Inevitable.”[5] In many senses it is less about the what and more about the how. How to move into these new changes as healthily as possible. This is what much of Li’s book engages.

I would like to leave this discussion of the idea of open leadership as being promoted through social technology with something similar it reminds me of, open leadership as being promoted through a very old theology.

Many years ago, 1978 to be exact, Lesslie Newbigin wrote a book called The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission.[6] In this text, Newbigin – who had spent from 1936-1974 in India as a missionary – calls for an open, dialogical engagement with others who do not consider themselves followers of Christ.

Offering an extended quote, Newbigin writes,

“The Christian confession of Jesus as Lord does not involve any attempt to deny to deny the reality of the work of God in the lives and thoughts and prayers of men and women outside of the Christian church. On the contrary, it ought to involve an eager expectation of, a looking for, and a rejoicing in the evidence of that work. There is something deeply wrong when Christians imagine that loyalty to Jesus requires them to belittle the manifest presence of the light in the lives of men and women who do not acknowledge him, to seek out points of weakness, to ferret out hidden sins and deceptions as a means of commending the gospel. If we love the light and walk in the light we will also rejoice in the light wherever we find it— even the smallest gleams of it…Christians then in their dealings with men and women who do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord, will meet them and share with them in a common life, not as strangers but as those who live by the same life-giving Word, and in whom the same life-giving light shines. They will recognize and rejoice in the evidences they find of a response to the same God from whom alone light and life come. They will join with their non-Christian neighbors in all that serves life against death and light against darkness. They will expect to learn as well as to teach, to receive as well as to give, in this common human enterprise of living and building up a common life. They will not be eager to have their particular contributions to the common human task separately labeled as “Christian.” They will be happy only if what they can do can serve the reign and righteousness of the Father of Jesus who loves all, gives life to all, and purposes the blessing of all.”[7]

There is much more overlap to the two books by Li and Newbigin. But suffice it to say that in an age of hypermarketing, faith and business have quite a lot in common. As with anything else, let us all work to make sure the commonalities are healthier rather than troublesome.

[1] Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), xvi.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., xiii.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978/1995).

[7] Ibid., 175-176.

About the Author

Clint Baldwin

10 responses to “Open Leadership and an Open Secret”

  1. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Clint
    A great response. You wisely point out that not all empowerment is necessarily a good thing. I hadn’t really thought about that, but you’re right! You say, “there are some ’empowered’ unhealthy people whose voices have been given a proverbial bullhorn magnifying the impact of their inanity.” So true. I can think of one local church where a few individuals have deeply hurt other believers through abusive posts on their church Facebook group page, by way of example.

    As you also say, faith and business have a lot in common. Dialogue is a necessary medium, especially with those from outside of our context, but it should be done with respect and a non-judgmental manner. As Li writes, “You must be comfortable sharing personal perspectives and feelings to develop closer relationships.” I must say though, for an introvert like myself, this poses a great challenge. Sharing personal perspectives and feelings is not an easy endeavour, simply because it requires great effort. But then again, I guess forging genuine relationships is not going to be an easy thing.

    Thank you Clint for a thought-provoking post!

    • Clint Baldwin says:

      thanks for a kind and thoughtful reply.
      I totally believe that there is more than one way to do sharing that you write about in your post. People leaning toward extroversion and those toward introversion should definitely go about it in varied manner for healthy sustainability. I think part of the dilemma we get into is that we often seek to do relationality according to “rules” that work for other people…but not for us. Anyhow, from knowing you, I have zero doubt in my mind that you are actually fabulous at building healthy, connected, authentic relationality. They key is to do it at a pace that works for you. Rome wasn’t built in a day and arguably — except in perhaps unusual cases — neither is deep relationality. However, certainly the building process that began the possibility of Rome was started (per se) in a single day and likewise for the possibility of authentic, deep relationality.

  2. Clint…
    Well, firstly I want to thank you for adding to my book list! :).

    Reading through your quote from Newbigin I thought of the interface with Li’s assertion that humility and authenticity are not determined by the individual (or even the church) but by others. If we were to be invested in the qualities and attitude prescribed by Newbigin (and Jesus 🙂 that would open us toward others, regardless of introvert or extrovert. 🙂

    But it was your earlier comment that reminded me of something we all too often want to ignore or seem to react to, “However, we typically think of empowerment as a fully positive word. Yet, in the case of this sentence, I would at least like to note on behalf of leaders that there are some “empowered” unhealthy people whose voices have been given a proverbial bullhorn magnifying the impact of their inanity.” What “good” might come if church staff or non-profit leadership considered what empowered unhealthy people might look like and we paid attention to recognizing our own reactions to those individuals — what kind of time do they take up? What are they demanding, requesting? Why and how do we respond? I’m thinking of the individual – a constituent that seems to be the thorn in the flesh. Having discovered blogging or facebook or email they assert a conversative political christian agenda that confronts your biblical narrative approach to engagement with the world (hmmm). It would seem that the time taken to develop an intentional response when they write/email you and to cultivate an environment utilizing social media to teach and equip might be a positive. Of course remembering Friedman and the need to be non-anxious leaders is also helpful!

    Thanks Clint for bringing up the other-side of empowerment (although I perhaps have taken it in another direction!) as well as the reminder of our posture in our social interactive engagements.

    Thanksgiving blessings…

    • Clint Baldwin says:

      Thanks for taking time to interact with my thinking. 🙂
      It’s really helpful.
      One suggested text that I found affirming because it simply and quickly named a lot of these negative aspects/engagements that so many of us deal with in various ways at various times is, “Energy Zappers: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry.” It’s not inordinately profound, but it is really encouraging. One of those texts that at times you can read through and think, “okay…I’m not alone in this.”
      Thanks for your ongoing sense of thoughtful, compassionate, empathetic, openness in leadership, Carol. I notice it and greatly appreciate it.

  3. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Hi Clint, thank you for your insights on this post. I agree with you, the open leadership concept that Li’s writes about applies to any organization. As you know there is a limit how much we can openly share information online but within the organization we serve transparence is so criteria to thrive for common goals. Another great point you highlight is about “empowered” unhealthy people and organization that would put stress on leaders. I think we need to develop the gift/skill of discerning those distressing voices to effectively deal with them. Thanks again.

    • Clint Baldwin says:

      Thanks for taking a moment to engage here.
      I actually responded to your post about something you bring up here. I thought Li’s notation of layered openness was important and I found that your work is one excellent example of why this is the case.

  4. Julie Dodge says:

    I love your closing, Clint. I appreciate raising the comparison between our openness to technology to our openness to God at work in other peoples – and using that as a place to build instead of seeking out the differences. All too often we get hung on the wrong things. Just before I logged on I saw where my step-mother had posted about how Christians simply can’t vote anything but Republican. I did not read the post (some link to some article) because that kind of blatant exclusion I find unhelpful. In order to live well, and lead well, in our world, I think we must be open to one another both in the sense that Li describes, and in the sense that you raise. Thank you, Clint.

    • Clint Baldwin says:

      Oh…so sorry about the voting piece. 🙁 How do we all get so lost so often?
      Openness and humility go hand-in-hand. Perhaps that’s why fewer people than we would like are willing to be more open? We can at least hope this is not the case. 🙂
      Happy early Thanksgiving my friend!

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Clint, loved reading your post! Your discussion on “empowered” people and how the E word which is also a buzz word in many circles does not always mean a positive. There is a place for the term, but as you pointed out, there are “empowered unhealthy people” who are usually assigned places of authority and the results turn out to be negative.

    The link between Li and Newbigin was also timely and your reminder for us “… us all to work to make sure the commonalities are healthier rather than troublesome” is refreshing.

    Thank you

  6. Carlos says:

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