Charlene Li—Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead
Li observes that there has been a tremendous shift in power in which individuals have the capability of disseminating their views throughout the entire world. This state of affairs has been ushered in by huge and rapid increases in various types of online activity; widespread use of social sites; and a rise in a culture of sharing. Communication technologies have enabled leaders to let go of control while simultaneously remaining in command, and maintaining close relationships and visibility with customers and employees. This resulted in open leadership, defined as “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.” The author discusses how social technology in particular is transforming leadership by “improving efficiency, communication, and decision making.”
According to Li, her research reveals the greatest indicator of success in leadership has been “an open mind-set—the ability of leaders to let go of control at the right time, in the right place, and in the right amount” . The initial step is for leaders to recognize that their customers, employees, and partners have the real power. Rather than being passive recipients of a company’s dictates, “more and more companies are realizing that in this new open world, customers, employees, and partners are taking on new roles. They now feel empowered because of a culture of sharing that allows them to spread their thoughts far and wide. Thanks to technology, they are becoming engaged with each other and with those organizations that embrace relationships in a deeper, more meaningful way.”
Li indicates that in order to be open, a leader has to let go of the need to be in control. By being proactive about giving up control, paradoxically leaders actually gain some semblance of control. Engaging the people and respecting their power and control, can actually put leaders in a position to counteract negative behavior and foster business relationships.
According to the author, open leadership is concerned with building a new kind of relationship with employees, customers, and partners. With social technologies ever present, there are new and diverse ways available to secure those bonds and relationships. “Open leaders invest in the relationship by sharing more about themselves, what they are thinking, feeling, and doing. But they are also circumspect in what they share—they have an innate sense of what is appropriate for a situation and what is not.”
Since social technologies are changing relationships, leadership has to make adjustments consistent with those changes. Li asserts that it is critical that organizations enter into these new open relationships with pre-established guidelines appropriate for an open strategy. Open leadership requires a whole new approach and set of skills. It requires a leader to be both open and in command. And Li declares, “Leadership takes on a different dimension in a connected, networked world—that of being a catalyst for change both outside and inside the organization.” As catalysts, open leaders also create and nurture an environment in which openness can thrive.
When I read the full title of Li’s book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, it caused me to immediately consider if this book is a direct antithesis of Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Because I recalled Rule #3 in Newport’s book is, “Quit Social Media.” Newport maintains that social network sites impede deep work because they are diversions and distractions that “fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate.”  He acknowledges that these network tools are not inherently evil and suggests idividuals should, “Adopt a tool only if it has a substantial positive impact on the success and happiness of your professional and personal life that outweighs its negative impacts.” I suspect that for Newport, the work of open leaders and their organizations would qualify as deep work and therefore, the association with social media is warranted.
Li tells us, “open leaders have learned that they are capable of using social technologies to extend and support their leadership. In an open organization, the open leader still sets the goals, the strategy, and the agenda, but with greater information sharing and distributed decision making.” As a catalyst, the open leader establishes alignment in the organization and inspires cohesiveness and cooperation in accomplishing goals.
I’m beginning to see just how important the role humility plays in leadership because the word keeps resurfacing in several of our readings on leadership. Li references Jim Collins in Good to Great, as noting that humility is a key characteristic of great leaders. But she adds that humility plays a special role in the context of open leaders too, because it allows them to discern their limitations, the role of failure in their success, and that their viewpoint may need some modification. She states, “Humility produces a high level of self-awareness, and confidence to admit when they are wrong or need help.”  Li indicates that in exposing weakness and discussing failure, open leaders are apt to be honest and take responsibility for them.
The word “humility” is repeatedly being impressed on Dminlgp to incorporate that trait in our leadership styles, and in our lives in general. Just the sheer repetition of the word makes me stand up and take notice that I have not attached nearly enough significance to the word as I should have in the past.
- Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 14.
- Ibid., xii.
- Ibid., 8.
- Ibid., 10.
- Ibid., 170.
- Ibid., 164.
- Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), 182.
- Ibid., 187.
- Li, Open Leadership, 197.
- Ibid., 169.