In Charlene Li’s work, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, she describes a business and leadership world in which openness is the new key to success. Her book is divided into two parts: what is openness and how does a companies and leaders achieve openness. For her, she does not just think it is a theory, but rather an imperative in today’s culture. The reason for her case is the boom of social sites in this technological age. She states:
Not only is the number of people going online growing, but the time they spend and the kind of things they do online are both also multiplying. According to the internetworld-stats.com, 1.7 billion people globally are active on the internet. Penetration ranges from 6.8 percent in Africa and 19.4 percent in Asia to 74.2 percent in North America….Adoption (of social media) has been quick: in September 2006 only 32 percent of all active internet users around the world had watched a video clip online; by March 2009 it had grown 83 percent (p. 5).
In other words, companies and leaders are forced to engage because everything is public knowledge in today’s world and news travels fast. Li goes on to explain how business practices are changing to deal with this new landscape and companies are learning how to be open with a variety of issues. From business practices, employee’s salaries, and future endeavors, companies are embracing this new model.
In this new booming world of openness, there are some pitfalls. For instance, champions of openness (Google and Facebook) have become under ire of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for refusing to release their privately developed algorithms. RT, an internet news site explains:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched a broadside at internet media giants, accusing them of “narrowing perspective,” and demanding they disclose their privately-developed algorithms. Merkel previously blamed social media for anti-immigrant sentiment and the rise of the far right.
“The algorithms must be made public, so that one can inform oneself as an interested citizen on questions like: what influences my behavior on the internet and that of others?” said Merkel during a media conference in Berlin on Tuesday.
“These algorithms, when they are not transparent, can lead to a distortion of our perception, they narrow our breadth of information.”
Google uses an algorithm to decide which search results are first shown to a user, while Facebook arranges the order of the news feed, and decides to include certain posts from a user’s liked pages and friends, at the expense of others. Both sites also promote links to news articles, often based on a user’s own media interests (https://www.rt.com/news/364235-merkel-facebook-google-algorithms/).
I bolded the last lines to make my point. While millennial companies want to embrace openness, I have to wonder if this is a gimmick, a sham, or an illusion. I truly appreciated Li’s book and I agree with a great deal of it, and I plan to use some concepts to let people be engaged more. I have also given away a lot of power in order to increase “buy-in.” These are core concepts that I believe in deeply. However, I also believe that this book is a product of Millennial dreamers and their worldview. Deeply engrained in their mindset is this belief that if the world would share more, be more inclusive, and everyone would get a trophy, then the world would be better and there ultimately be peace. This is a delusion that devalues leadership.
Li’s book was written in 2010 in the midst of the euphoria of Barack Obama’s first term. The world felt like it was on the brink of change that would usher in a great peaceful revolution. There was a great deal of promise about openness, hope and change. In 2016 however, we are about to elect one of the most secretive presidential candidates in our history (Trump will not release his taxes and Hillary is deleting emails by the thousands). I both agree and disagree with Li that our culture is becoming more and more open. I agree that it is open because of technology, but the skeptic in me just says that leaders are learning to give a false appearance of openness. Again, I appreciated some principles in Li’s book, but I struggled with the basic premise, and I am just being open about my view on this book.