A word on openness and social media from Ron Swanson:
Perhaps you feel a bit like Ron Swanson when it comes to social media and organizational openness. Either you are overwhelmed and a bit frightened by the brave new world we live in, or maybe you work with someone who has a more closed view of leadership and communication. Whatever it may be, we now live in a world where the rules of leadership and communication have totally changed, and will continue to change. Leaders who cannot adjust to these realities will struggle to find success in the emerging world. The culture has changed through social technology in how it thinks, processes, and deals with organizations. The rules are now different. This is essentially the main thesis of Charlene Li’s book Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead.
Li goes on to explain that what was once prized as effective leadership and institutional acumen was “control.” The world has shifted to a place where control is almost impossible to maintain and where customers and employees expect a greater sense of collaboration and sharing that goes way beyond the inner circle of organizational leadership. Li explains that successful leaders and organizations will be able to find the perfect blend of openness and control for their specific situation and context. The heart of the book is in explaining the key character and heart changes that must take place in an organization for openness to occur: “In order to be open, you need to let go of the need to be in control. But to fill that void, you need to develop the confidence- to develop the trust- that when you let go of control, the people who you pass the power will act responsibly (loc 392).”
I have had the opportunity to work with some very open organizations. My democratic Presbyterian home church had a high value on lay leadership. That is, no initiative was to go forward unless it was conceived of, planned by, and carried out by lay members of the church. Working for Cru, our mission is student led movements. Students are to take the active responsibility to carry the mission of the Great Commission to their campuses. They are to start, lead, and multiply their own spiritual movements. Staff help by casting vision and, supporting and coaching students through the process. In both cases (Presbyterian and Cru), the process was often messy and clunky, but it worked in that people were motivated and empowered for mission, growing the impact of the organization. Studying the history of Christian movements, the research overwhelmingly points to the importance that successful movements are always led, enacted, and empowered at the lay level.
Where Li’s book speaks to two main areas that help to aid me most in my own understanding of creating an open culture of leadership. They are:
- The actual character traits needed by a leader to foster openness.
- The emphasis on social media to engage with co-workers and stake holders.
Openness is essentially found in creating relationships and engaging with people. Li goes on to explain that open leaders need to have two essential traits: optimism and a desire for collaboration. Optimism with healthy doses of curiosity and humility allow us to see the best in people and want to hope for the best in people and organizations. This allows us as leaders to be more open, sharing, and to give away control, knowing that other will be able to handle the responsibility and/or learn and grow from failure. Collaboration allows for the unleashing of creative and innovative power throughout an organization; moreover, it imbues the organization with ownership of the vision and mission.
I will admit that I have often been slow to see social media as a real engine to accomplish leadership goals. But, Li makes a strong case for their inclusion in leadership strategy and organizational strategy. Working in a country like Spain, where not everyone is using social media like Americans (although this is changing rapidly) it has been hard to see the real need here. However, for those like me, who are a bit skeptical, Li explains that we need to put together a plan and follow it through. This is probably my biggest take away from Li’s work, to begin to think how I can use social media to foster greater openness amongst the staff I lead and the students we are all trying to empower and send.
In short, to become a better open leader:
- Work on engaging those you lead or serve. Your job is to give away control, but to do that effectively you need to be in a trusting relationship with those you are leading and giving control to.
- Develop the traits of optimism and collaboration in your leadership style. This will open up others to have the freedom and power to grow and develop the success of the organization, from the inside and outside.
- Develop a personal and organizational plan for using social technology to foster openness.
- Avoid the Ron Swanson style of openness.