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

Some openness is ok!

Written by: on November 21, 2014

Leadership is a fascinating subject. Charlene Li books, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead demonstrates how intricate leadership issues can be. Prior to reading “Open Leadership”, I was reflecting on the role of social media in global communications. Is it the medium that matters, or is it the message? I enjoy studying and learning about how leaders can be purposeful and fruitful in cross-cultural communications and so Li’s book provided eye openers.  It has added to my ongoing process of thinking, praying and the implementation of plans concerned with how to respond to some of the preventable global issues that are exacerbated by leadership inabilities.

The concept of “Open Leadership” is timely because with it comes the need to effectively structure the use of technology as a tool to resource the type of leader committed to support and serve communities. How much should a leader control? Li introduces the American Red Cross’s desire to control its messaging during hurricane Katrina through social media. The author writes:

What’s fascinating about this story is that the American Red Cross started engaging in social media because it sought to control it, but realized over time that it was better to be open and engage with those who are already engaging them. But here’s a critical point: the Red Cross didn’t simply throw open the doors overnight. It was only when Harman was able to put in place the proper procedures, policies, and guidelines that defined how everyone should and shouldn’t behave, that the Red Cross felt comfortable letting go of the impulse to control.[1]

The book is structured into three parts which begin with the inevitability of giving up control is and ten characteristics of being open. The following subjects are about the creative strategy leaders need to be open and one’s ability to understand the benefits and measured value of being open.  However, openness can also be costly to a business’ competitive advantage if not handled in reason. Therefore it is incumbent upon any leadership team to innovate and leave room for lessons. Li notes:

Leadership requires a new approach, new mid-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 relationship. Negative online comments can’t be avoided or ignored. Instead, you must come to embrace each openness-enabled encounter as an opportunity to learn. 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 be those who say “Thank you.”[2]

The idea of “Sandbox Covenants” was intriguing because it allows for the creation of openness. It also helps with the process of instilling policies that can guide organizations in managing the risks that emerge with openness. According to Li, “Covenants are promises that people make with each other, which differ from traditional corporate policies and procedures that dictate how things will operate within organizations”[3]



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

[2] Ibid., xvi.

[3] Ibid., 109.

About the Author

Michael Badriaki

9 responses to “Some openness is ok!”

  1. rhbaker275 says:

    Very helpful post … I feel similar concerning the significance of social technology in leadership. In many ways, I am not not comfortable with social networking; I have seem to many family arguments. There are often disparaging remarks and one wonders why people make the comments they post. In using the open media there is always the possibility of the bad and the ugly. I like my Tribes’ (Church of God, Anderson) news feed and I encourage our congregation to subscribe to it. This is a very controlled medium. It is not a blog, although we have a blog, and there is no opportunity for response. This is a safe way to connect and communicate but not intended to allow discussion, response or input. Personally, I like our Twitter feed; it is open, available to all, and a place where ideas are shared. Even in the Twitter medium, I sense a feeling of constraint. When I visited today, there was an ugly, explicit, and offensive feed. Why? Jut hard to understand but openness allows for abuse.

    That is why I feel your quote from the Red Cross Katrina experience is so significant: “put in place the proper procedures, policies, and guidelines that defined how everyone should and shouldn’t behave” before going public with social technology. Li goes on to say that being open does feel risky and dangerous and she notes the need to, “put in place the policies, processes, and procedures that will help you manage openness” (Kindle, 1762). In this context Li provides a guidelines checklist (1850). Ultimately, however, it comes down to trust. Li gives six steps to setting up the guidelines but “Code of Conduct” is possibly significantly more important, as a part of the covenant, in building a trust relationship: Be human, accessible, authentic, patient, and productive. Unfortunately, conduct is often quite different and, from my perspective, it is difficult to build trust in social networking. I do retain a lot of caution; how do you see this from a more global perspective?

    • Richard Volzke says:

      You make an interesting remark that you like the your church news feed, because “this is a safe way to connect and communicate but is not intended to allow discussion, response or input.” I’m not sure that a news feed or website is considered a social platform when the use of it is to push out one-way communication. The Wesleyan Church has the same type of news feeds and they also do not allow comments or feedback about the stories. My personal feeling is that there should be a way to comment or to at least send feedback. If an organization is truly transparent and seeking to do the right thing, then they will have avenues where people can post, and even complain. What is really good is when others outside of the organization even address complaints for you. Just because someone may post something that you perceive is negative, it isn’t always an issue. People are savvy enough to know the difference and to identify trends. Over and over, I have seen churches and organizations either spin or withhold information from their people for the sake of “good public relations”. The church should be leading the way with openness, and always be looking for feedback on everything that it says or writes. Now, I understand that sometimes you don’t want to get into interpersonal conflict in a social media setting, however posting in a professional or organizational capacity will help to limit this occurrence. Just my two cents…

      • rhbaker275 says:

        Thanks Richard,
        For your “two cents” which I value much more. It is true that a news feed, in itself, is not an open forum for response. I think it is good that the Twitter line is an opportunity to respond with open comments, often linked to the news feed. I have followed many of the twitter responses by local and state leaders to the news articles. One unfortunate downside to allowing openness in “news” articles designed to dispense information rather than a forum for expression, is the simple “clutter” that can accumulate and distract from the “information;” such as 100’s of “awesome”s, “Wow,” “what a story,” (to stay on the positive side – there can be much negative also) etc. What I like is when information gets picked up and put on blog spots where good input and debate, when needed, can take place. One of the most distracting issues in our country is that the evening news is no longer news; it is censored opinion. Maybe part of what I like is that our church news feeds are positive and uplifting (maybe censored, I don’t know, I hope there is no spin; perhaps that has moral implications). Most of what we reeve on network and cable is not.

  2. John Woodward says:

    Michael, I too found this book very interesting and eye opening. From an older guy’s perspective, it has been (and continues) to be a challenge to put myself out there in the cyber world. I have to wonder if there is an age issue here, as I find young people relaxed about sharing their lives with a bigger world. Your post got me thinking also about the cultural issues involved in this. How much of this book really is focused on American culture (or European)? I have many friends in other country who talk about how flippant Americans are in their relationships (two Americans meet, and five minutes later, they are best friends! Only in America!). Does this “cyber openness” translate to Africa or other places you’ve been? Are people as willing to put their lives up for all to see? I would be curious to know if you see any differences. Sadly, I believe (no matter where you are from or how old you are), this is the direction of the world because of the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, that whether or not we want to, we will have deal with a much more open way of communicating and connecting. Thanks, Michael for your insights!

  3. rhbaker275 says:

    It is interesting to consider the degree to which there is a willingness to be open is linked to generation? Or, at least the resistance to openness. Even global culture – one of the most interesting things about world culture, and I know you have experienced this, we discovered while in Tanzania we could be in remote locations where there was no social or community infrastructure that is prevalent everywhere in the west, yet, cells phones were in abundance. An entrepreneurial local would have a business with a single solar cell setup to charge phones.

    An interesting antidote: while visiting Gelai, a remote village in the northern Tanzania area of Loliondo occupied mostly by the Masai tribe, one morning I observed two Masai women standing in an open area holding their phone up toward the distant mountain. As I observed, I thought they were taking pictures; I had arisen early that morning and in a similar location, I had taken beautiful photos of the rising sun with Kilimanjaro framed in the distance – it was gorgeous. Since in the mid-morning light, Kilimanjaro was not at all visible, I approached them thinking to show them my pictures. They looked at my pictures with interest, all the while giggling and talking back and forth. I later discovered the spot where they were standing was one of two places in the whole village where one could stand and hold their phone up (as if they were taking pictures) and get reception from the, quite literally, outside world.

  4. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Michael
    Good post! As Li well explains, social media demands that leaders develop open relationships with their employees and customers. However, leaders not only need greater authenticity and transparency in their relationships. Far more relational skills are required by the leader in the 21st century than that. Leaders need a vast measure of relationship intelligence. E.g. what happens what a customer or employee isn’t cooperative? When they complain? When they don’t listen? It’s not possible to develop healthy working relationships with everyone, and so I believe the leader needs more than Li explains.
    Anyway, Li makes a great contribution in this dialogue, but I do think she needs to go further when challenges arise in working relationships. Just a few thoughts!
    God bless you Michael,

  5. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Michael, I like your title “some openness is ok!,” and it is so true. In my ministry we always careful what we share and how much we share with our ministry partners. You ask a good question: “Is it the medium that matters, or is it the message?.” I think if the social technologies are used in a healthy way they can serve as great medium to communicate our message. As you said rightly, “Leadership requires a new approach, new mid-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 relationship.” Coming from the country where is no freedom to share one’s opinion, I come to appreciate the power of social media to get the public attention to social issues. Thank you!

  6. Julie Dodge says:

    Nice summary, Michael. I also liked Li’s sandbox covenant ideas. It caused me to think about more general ideals associated with social media regarding the developing nature of on line culture. As a relatively new media, what is considered appropriate and inappropriate on line communication has been being shaped as it rolls out. We tend to recognize inappropriate content, but of course the people who post it may or may not be aware that they are crossing boundaries – because the boundaries are unclear. And while Li stresses that the use of social media builds relationship, early on people shared more than they would in person because we had not yet developed an awareness of self in the virtual world. So going back to those sandbox covenants, I think they help to create boundaries for professional and business communications that we perhaps might not otherwise have known. What seems ok to one person may be quite not to someone else. Stating those things out loud helps to reduce such errors. Thanks for your post Michael. And by the way – I miss you.

  7. Clint Baldwin says:

    “Preventable global issues.” This is so much the thing so often and as you note, lack of leadership ability tends to frequently exacerbate the negative side of things. Open, collaborative leadership — implying community connectivity — surely wouldn’t solve everything, but it would go a long way toward mitigating problems.

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