I must say that Charlene Li is one of my favorite thought leaders when it comes to leadership within today’s modern organization and digital world. There is no denying that social media has changed the way that leaders must interact and engage with the world. Leaders of today’s high-performing organizations must engage with technology in a meaningful, yet careful way. Social media has quickly become the way for us to engage with family, friends, customers, co-workers, church members, and anyone else who comes within our sphere of influence. Therefore, we must learn to leverage the platform to ensure that we propagate positive influence.
Most high-performing organizations work hard to create social media strategies. Many have entire teams of people devoted to managing the organization’s online presence. Careful attention is paid to the perceptions of others about the organization and it’s leadership team. The public scrutinizes leaders each day, and their opinion is often based on what they find on social media. Essentially, social media dictates to the world what a person is all about, or who they are. Privacy has become a long lost luxury. Li’s book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, provides sound guidance to help leaders be transparent and open while still maintaining command (not control). Most of us don’t have a team of social media experts to create and manage our online presence, but we cannot expect to lead without engaging with the world. Open leadership is about relationships. Good leaders don’t control others or dictate to them. Instead, they motivate them by being a role model, being vulnerable, and having good intentions. People don’t trust leaders who aren’t open and who won’t relinquish control. But, they also follow leaders who can command and motivate towards a vision or destination. This requires a specific leadership strategy that allows one to maintain balance with finesse.
Developing an open strategy begins with learning about the people with whom you want to build a relationship with. One wouldn’t just throw blurbs online and then expect people to be so overwhelmed and joyed about the posting that they instantly engage and follow. Communicating must mean something to those whom you are communicating to. Identify your goals and vision, and then be open in a manner that allows you to achieve those goals. Leverage technology in a way that gains the right relationships. Sometimes there is a need to be more open and transparent, and other times it is acceptable to be less transparent. For example, leaders are often a little more open about an organization’s strategy with their employees than they are with the general public or their competitors. If a leader doesn’t have right motives or isn’t transparent enough, then their employees are likely to distrust them. Employees are perceptive and they talk in the world of social media. The lesson here is that openness requires a strategy that is morally and strategically good, for people and an organization.
Li suggests that organizations and leaders build their ‘sandbox’. Being open doesn’t excuse TMI. There are healthy boundaries that every organization and leader must put into place. I once worked with a leader who felt that being transparent meant he shared his every emotion and theological thoughts openly on social media. His intent wasn’t bad, but he detracted people when he’d share daily pages of long personal prayers and sermons pleading people to live holy lifestyles. This was just as unattractive as posts with bad language or dirty pictures. Building relationships requires a certain level of social skills. Social media has it’s own set of rules, and a person must understand the norms before attempting to engage in this space. Sometimes this is done by trial and error. Li suggests that organizations and leaders develop a strategy to ensure that online activity is done in a way that attracts and builds positive relationships. It requires we measure our success along the way and then adjust our approach based on the responses we receive.
Social media strategies must align to the way an organization operates. The strategy must define how a person or organization wants their relationship to work. This makes me think about the way people date and get married. Some people go out with others just to have a night on the town. When I dated, I quickly knew if the guy was serious about me or was just being friendly. I also knew if his intentions were good or bad. When I found the person who wanted to marry me, that relationship looked a little different. This was someone who wanted to have a long-term relationship with me, thought I was beautiful, and wanted the best for me in life. I knew this person cared for me, and I was willing to commit and be loyal to this person through good and bad times. I knew he wouldn’t be perfect and would mess up at times, but I was willing to be loyal because his heart was in the right place. Hence, I’ve been married now for 23 years! Leaders must develop their strategy based on their intended outcomes – and they must genuinely care or they need to resign or be fired! Personal agendas or misaligned intentions can quickly take an organization downward. Intentions are quickly perceived, even in the digital world. Not only are they quickly perceived, but also they are also quickly propagated to a much wider audience. People expect leaders to make mistakes and will typically forgive mistakes if the intention is good and the actions are morally acceptable.
Organizations must determine if they are looking for a transactional interaction, or if they are looking to build loyalty and trust for the long term. For example, a university is typically looking to build long-term relationships with students, faculty, staff, donors, and alum. If strategies are mainly transactional, visible collaboration is lacking, and there is no means through which voices can be heard and reacted to, then the university won’t be too successful in developing the stronger relational community that they want. The same holds true for churches. They need to quit being transactional and counting people in seats on Sunday morning. Communicate and collaborate. Live life with the community not in the community – and this includes the digital community. Don’t just recruit me with nice looking marketing and then preach to me on Sunday mornings. Give me a forum through which I can grow with the community. I need to use my gifts in the greater church community, and to be valued and trusted along the way. Don’t see me as a ‘member’ or ‘one who needs to be discipled’. And remember, joining a small group or working with kids may not be my cup of tea. I may be an introvert and hate parties or potlucks. Find out what my gifts are and collaborate with me to figure out how I can use them in a way that is good for the church community and me. And, programs like Strengths Finder aren’t the answer. Sit down, get to know me, and have a cup tea with me. Take time for me and show me that you need me and want me to be a part of the community. Don’t let me see you chase down the money people first, rather make an intentional effort to get to know me without an agenda. Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter – find out what is going on in my world. Communicate with me, using the tools that allow me to stay connected in my busy life. (I must say that my church is very good at this – it is because they have open and genuine leaders!) A person knows if a church wants their money, membership, home for a small group, or child watching skills…
To have the type of community that thrives in today’s world, leaders must be open. They must propagate openness as a general mindset, and move away from a closed, political or bureaucratic way of doing things. A culture of sharing must be created. Failure must be planned for and embraced, not feared. Open leaders across an organization must be supported, not stifled. Silos must be destroyed. Value the voice and broaden the opportunities for people to be involved in a way that works for them and the organization. Empower them to interact, grow, and serve in a meaningful way. Being an open leader means you strategize your approach and are open to allowing others to help achieve goals. It means you become a visible ship in unfamiliar territory. You are entrusted with precious cargo. Your crew trusts you to navigate the route to your destination, and you trust and empower your crew to help you journey through the sometimes-unfamiliar waters. Along your journey, you will run into rough spots and face crisis. You will also reap many benefits and learn from the journey itself. Along the way, you will gain friends and comrades. The shared experience is much more powerful and fulfilling than a journey taken alone.
 Li, Charlene. Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, ©2010.