In 1972 three brothers were given a new cereal to eat for breakfast. The two older brothers were skeptical especially since this cereal was supposed to be better for you (Yuck!). First one then the other, “I’m not gonna try it, you try it!” Not wanting to be the first one, they turn to Mikey, the little brother hoping for validation because “He hates everything.” Mikey stares at the bowl before him, then picks up his spoon and begins to eat. The brothers are stunned and surprised, “He likes it! Hey, Mikey!” If you remember this Life Cereal commercial you are not alone; the spot ran for twelve years! In a 1999 survey more than 70% responding could still identify the ad with little prompting.
I did not think about the Life Cereal commercial featuring Mikey until I was in the last chapter of Charlene Li’s book Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead. Her premise it that to succeed in today’s changing information and communication environment a leader must be authentic and transparent. That is not really so surprising. What might be surprising and true to the title, she advocates and demonstrates the path to greater transparency and authenticity requires a more open hand. To lead leaders must let go.
She anticipates reluctance and resistance. In what is undoubtedly the finest feature of the book Li provides concise Action Plans at the end of each chapter. She anchors these steps by demonstrating their feasibility in the implementation strategies of several key organizations. Yes, it is a business book, but I found myself challenged and encouraged as I considered translating the values of Open Leadership into my own leadership and those I might hope to lead, whether in the Church or in the classroom.
But rather than advocate open leadership for the sake of the bottom line, Li advocates change is necessary because relationships themselves are changing. “Leadership is about relationships, and because social technologies are changing relationships, leadership also needs to change.” I am part of an online learning environment and I teach in an online learning environment. Both utilize social media to stay in touch and to communicate. I have new twitter followers because someone else on their list follows me and I do the same. When people are frustrated or have questions they seek the wisdom of the crowd to solve or offer suggestions. I reconnected with long ago high school friends and converse in real time on Facebook or Skype with my friends more than 9,000 miles away in Melbourne, Australia. I have experienced what Li recognized four years ago that the dynamics of how we communicate, develop and create relationships is changing. This is strikingly refreshing as well as sobering. It makes me ponder and recognize that quite often we talk about change in terms of efficiency, the bottom line, product production and areas of responsibility, but do we lead with relationships? Is that the motivation?
Open Leadership reminds me that we cannot take relationship motivation for granted. Where is it stated in my values? How is that lived out in the values where I worship or where I work? Li defines “open leadership as having confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.” Rather than be reactive responders in this new and evolving social platform Li advocates and provides a path to follow as responders and initiators. The hallmark of open leadership is not a lack of controls or even a lack of structure, rather it is an investment in structure and control that permits one to become more open. And just exactly whom are we supposed to be more open toward? The short answer in the business world is your employees and your customer (and potential customers). For a university it would be the students (and for most undergrads, their parents) and the employees – professors (including the adjuncts!) and administrative support staff and administrators, not one at the expense of the other. In the church is would be those that are apart of your fellowship and those on your staff and those in the community.
One strategy is that if we are going to be in relationship with others we begin by getting to know them by creating a socialgraphic profile. I know that sounds rather impersonal and maybe even technical, but it makes sense. The profile is not so much about collecting data for data’s sake (remember the data junkies in Failure of Nerve?). Rather it is a tool to discover and understand where connections are already happening whether “customer” or employee; who has influence and who is developing influence. The potential is there to utilize a socialgraphic to recognize natural connections within your community as well as to see those on the margins.
There is no doubt that the path Li outlines requires an investment of time and energy. In a word I have been reminded to be intentional and purposeful. While most of the book’s focus is framework for social engagement, I find that I am musing over the possibilities and interface not only with my dissertation research but also how I might be more intentional with my online presence. What is my motivation and how might I rightly influence others? I can begin my investing in my relationships.
 Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), xi.
 Ibid., 163.
 Edwin Friedman, Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Ages of the Quick Fix (New York: Seabury Books, 2007), 95. Chapter Three: “Data Junkyards and Data Junkies: The Fallacy of Expertise.”