DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Value of Open Leadership

Written by: on November 3, 2016

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.”[1] The author discusses how social technology in particular is transforming leadership by “improving efficiency, communication, and decision making.”[2]


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” [3].  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.”[4]

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.”[5]

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.”[6] 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.” [7] 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.”[8] 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.”[9]   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.” [10] 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.


  1. Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 14.
  2. Ibid., xii.
  3. Ibid., 8.
  4. Ibid., 10.
  5. Ibid., 170.
  6. Ibid., 164.
  7. Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), 182.
  8. Ibid., 187.
  9. Li, Open Leadership, 197.
  10. Ibid., 169.






About the Author

Claire Appiah

10 responses to “Value of Open Leadership”

  1. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Great connection with some of our readings. You also emphasized the need for humility as leaders. I find it quite fascinating that as servants of God, we need constant reminders to be humble. Humility provides an opportunity to avoid arrogance but more importantly, unselfishness. However, I do realize that as we develop our skills as global leaders, the potential to walk in pride exist so the reminder of humility is necessary. When we walk in humility, the people we lead will realize their self-worth and become better leaves and even people we can trust.


    • Claire Appiah says:

      Thanks for replying to my blog and helping me see the connection between humility and selfishness. As servants of the most High God, are mission is to fulfill His mandates, for His purposes, for His Kingdom. We have to be reminded constantly that it is not about us, but about God alone. Good point—our humility causes others to see their self-worth and to enhance their integrity.

  2. Hi Claire. Great reference to Deep Work’s Rule #3!!! I caught that too because I am making my senior class read parts of Deep Work. We’ve had some great discussions on quitting social media. Li seems to be arguing for the opposite. I think she is arguing from the point of view of employees and customers. For me, it’s as if she is saying, all the people you lead and your organization deals with are on social media talking about your organization. You better set something up to deal with that. Where, Cal Newport is talking to leaders saying, “social media is a distraction.”

    • Claire Appiah says:

      I believe the ideologies of Newport and Li can be reconciled when we see the common denominator of focus on quality work and enhanced performance—by any means possible. Newport cautions us about allowing social media to dominate our lives with shallowness, and to use only those technologies where positive outcomes outweigh negative outcomes. Li demonstrates how leaders can actually perform high level work (deep work) through strategic engagement with social technology.

  3. mm Marc Andresen says:


    Thank you for the great reflection on Newport’s work.

    You wrote, ‘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.”[6]’

    With all of the internet/social media connections now available to us, how is this helping or affecting you in your dissertation work?

    • Claire Appiah says:

      I am not a great fan of the internet/social technologies. I prefer to use them sparingly. But, as technologies become outmoded and are sometimes entirely replaced by new technologies, I’m forced to conform to the current modes of engagement regarding interactions and transactions, personally, socially, and business-wise. Presently, I don’t see social media having any value or impact on my dissertation work. However, I intend to use the internet at large as a great research tool to enhance and inform my dissertation themes.

  4. Aaron Cole says:


    Great blog! What an spot on observation of the connection between Li’s book and Newport’s. I did not even make the connection, but you are right! My question for you is which concept resonates more with you and your work: Newport’s exiling of social media tech or Li’s embracing of it?


    • Claire Appiah says:

      I definitely resonate more with Newport than Li, that’s why I couldn’t forget his rule #3. But, Newport doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. He is not opposed to new technologies, just the waste of energy and intellect in being obsessed with shallow pursuits on the internet, at the expense of not developing one’s cognition to do great things. He does not object to the use of new technologies per se, just the wholesale use of them without discerning whether a particular technology is producing positive or negative outcomes.

      I think he is correct in this, but he also fails to see Li’s perspective that open leaders and their organizations have discovered ways to utilize the new technologies, even social media to maximize their efficiency, enhance their performance, and foster relationships with respect to employees, customers, and partners. I agree with Li’s concepts for organizations, but don’t particular see their value in my mission.

  5. mm Phil Goldsberry says:


    Great recall on Newport. Do you think Newport would embrace Li’s theory on “openness”? Newport felt that social media was shifting so fast and fluid that it did not deserve engaging in.

    Li embraces “openness” by engagement. Do you agree with her perspective that everyone has the ability to communicate for the organization?


    • Claire Appiah says:

      I think Newport could accept Li’s theory of “openness” as tenable, but embracing it may be another matter altogether. He would most likely appreciate that this openness affords leaders the opportunity to produce great work at an elite level while doing a balancing act of giving up power and still being in command to set agendas, strategies, and be the decision maker.
      I’m sorry, I don’t recall what Li stated about “everyone has the ability to communicate for the organization.” On the surface, I don’t see how that would be feasible.

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