Open Leadership is having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.
The old days are gone. CEO’s can no longer sit up in their top-floor, glamorous offices leading by fiat decrees, while ignoring the changes in technology going on all around them. Employees, customers, and partners are increasingly using social media often in ways that directly affect businesses. The trend to more widespread use of social media is here to stay. Leaders will need to be more “open” in leadership and get on top of it.
In Open Leadership, Charlene Li stresses the balance between control and openness. Leaders do not give up all control; they give up their need for control. They let others share in the responsibilities. With today’s technology open leadership should not be feared but embraced as an exciting tool to be used for success.
Li helps the reader understand this by using the concept of the Sandbox Covenant. In a sandbox there are boundaries where everyone is safe and free to build their own project. But there are rules; no throwing sand or taking someone else’s truck. This concept appears over and over in the book and relates to the transformation of the organization to a more open one. It is just one of Li’s many effective illustrations.
Dr. Li lays out the path to the open style of leadership by defining what it means to be open, laying out the nuts and bolts of creating and managing the open strategy, and explaining the characteristics that leaders will need to have to be effective in the open organization.
Each step on the path has ‘checkpoints’ where the reader can stop and reflect on what they have learned. The exercises help the leader to construct their Action Plan toward an open leadership. At the end of the section on defining open leadership for example, there is an “Openness Audit”. This gives the leader an idea of where her organization is open and where it is not. Throughout the rest of the book, the leader will build her own strategy and learn how to have the Open Mind-set with the help of these assessment tools and eventually put them into practice.
Case studies help the reader to understand how other companies have dealt with the change toward Open Leadership. Li does not sugar-coat anyone’s experience; failures are used as examples of how to learn from mistakes and move on.
In fact, dealing with failure is a key part of being an open leader. No matter how well things are going, there will always be some mistakes. Li sees it as essential for leaders to master failure and “create an environment in which risk taking is encouraged and recovery from failure becomes a skill that everyone in the organization possesses.”
Li’s book also seems to be a summary of the many leadership concepts we have been studying in LGP. One concept that persistently shows up is the trait of humility.
Jesus Christ: It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant. (Matthew 20:26)
Robert K. Greenleaf: The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. The only thing I would like to question is whether or not ‘servanthood’ is a natural feeling. I would say that it is very unnatural in today’s selfish world. Only someone highly motivated or filled with the Holy Spirit really desires to serve.
Max De Pree: The art of leadership is “liberating people to do what is required of them in the most effective and humane way possible. The leader is the “‘servant’ of his followers in that he removes the obstacles that prevent them for doing their jobs. In short, the true leader enables his or her followers to realize their full potential.”
David Livermore: “The challenge for us as leaders is to see our existence not only in terms of our own interests but ultimately about things larger than us.”
Jim Collins: A “Level 5” leader channels her ego needs away from herself and into the larger purpose of the foundation. Great, Level 5 leaders will be modest but determined; humble but fearless in pursuing the goals of the organization. Leadership qualities are displayed that all of the other members of the organization can emulate.
Edwin H. Friedman: The characteristics of the self-differentiated leader include “integrity, concern for the growth of others, adventurous enough to seek change, ability to give voice to all members of the group, separate but detached in a healthy way, shows no display of anxiety herself.”
Manfred Kets De Vries: The leader of the future will have the following characteristics – self-management, ability to manage cognitive complexity, cultural relativity (ethnocentricity has no role in this world), an action orientation, generativity, team-building skills, impression management, task-relevant knowledge, and ability to inspire trust in subordinates and maintain that trust throughout the growth of the organization. Wise, humble leaders might also cultivate a friend or associate as a ‘fool’ or ‘truth teller’ as a foil for herself.
Charlene Li: “In the context of open leadership, humility plays a special role – it allows open leaders to accept that their views on something may need to shift because of what their curious explorations expose. … humility gives them the self-awareness and confidence to admit when they are wrong or need help.” To the above traits Li would add transparency and authenticity.
As leaders move their companies toward success while utilizing the new technology, they still set the strategy and learn the skills necessary to make the needed changes in the organization as they move toward more openness. Leaders will still manage their companies but they may change the way they have been doing it. New strategies of dealing with social technology while crafting open policies will be needed especially as the world becomes more global.
 Charlene Li. Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (New Delhi, India: Wiley India Pvt. Ltd., 2010). 14.
 The article, “The Servant as Leader” may be found at: https://www.essr.net/~jafundo/mestrado_material_itgjkhnld/IV/Lideranças/The%20Servant%20as%20Leader.pdf, page 6.
 Li. 217.
 Max De Pree. Leadership is an Art (Crown Business: New York), xxii.
 David Livermore. Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success (New York: American Management Association, 2015). 63.
 Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors (Boulder, CO, Jim Collins, 2005). 210.
 Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2017). 245.
 Manfred Kets De Vries. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise. (New York, NY: Prentice Hall, 2006). 257.
 Li. 169.