Open Leadership, How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead by Charlene Li is a guide to leadership in the 21st century. It is an almost sequel to Li’s first book, Groundswell, were leaders are given the how to’s of new technologies of social and mobile media. Open Leadership shows how the social technologies can be best leveraged for today’s leadership market. Li suggests that all should be done through the lens of relationship and philosophy of being “open” which is based upon a conditional trust relationship. The book is broken down into three sections. The first section explains that “open” means a willingness to give up some, but not all, control and share information, ideas, and resources. The second section is the defining of an “open” strategy, this is the “how to” use open leadership from benefits to actual policies. The third and final section is about the leader’s role in the transformative move from a closed controlled system to an open empowering style of leadership. The entire work is chopped full of examples, quotes, and stats from real world in real time leaders and companies navigating through this new open leadership landscape.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love the high degree of application and real world in real time examples. I found the leadership examples and profiles fascinating as Li “connected the dots” of how open leadership works.
I found that the concept of “open leadership” is not about a lack of structure but rather a redefining of what structure looks like and how it functions today in light of digital and social technologies. The leadership landscape has changed and a new tension of “how to” navigate has arisen. Li likens it to the printing revolution with the introduction of the printing press of the information age. The “kings dilemma” is alive and well.
There are many struggles with the new digital and social age as it pertains to leadership. The first is the adaptation to new technologies and ways of communicating both internally and externally. Leaders are forced to learn new ways and platforms to speak, the message does not change but the method does. Next leaders are forced to concede a certain amount of control over people, products, and information. It is true that control is still in tact, but the demand of sharing creates a tension that the leader must manage. This issue of control leads to a third tension, decision making. Open Leadership demands a more, not complete, decentralized and empowering organizational and decision making form. This in essence means that decision must be made of the lowest level possible and for that to occur power must flow as well. This displacement of decision making and power creates tension for the leader, although power is distributed there is still one who is ultimately responsible. The final tension that is created from “open leadership” is how learning and communication occurs. It is now a two way street, due to openness, sharing, and decentralization. Information is no longer top down, but also bottom up. A smart leader sees this a informational gold and seizes the opportunity to learn not just from the employee but from the customer as well. This information with speed of technology allows the leader to change and adjust quickly to meet market demands and reach personal goals.
A leader can look at the above with one of two perspectives. The leader can gripe about the changing world and wish for simpler times or can see the tide opportunity that is rolling in. Tension is something that every leader has to manage, but when done correctly it can yield great dividends. The new technological ways to do business can create greater efficiency and proficiency that allows for more time and resources. The “open” concept can drive people to you and your product with very little expense. The only requirement that you focus on servicing people and not selling them. The decentralization of organizational power allows leaders to lead, but also specialize on their particular area of interest or expertise. Last, learning and communication allows for one format to produce both. No longer is there a focus of energy and resource on either sending information or receiving it, social technologies allows the leader to do both simultaneously. This is a great day to lead!