Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Open Leadership

I just finished reading my advance copy of Open Leadership by Charlene Li (co author of Groundswell and Principal of Altimeter) - two thumbs up! It’s a must read for leaders navigating emerging technologies across organizational waters. The book is packed solid of one case study after another of insightful examples of social business innovation focused on fostering an open culture. It’s rich with checklists, thoughtful questionnaires and action plans to help leaders evaluate their readiness and develop plans to embrace a culture of openness.

In her book, scheduled to come out next week, Charlene defines open leadership as “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.”

I’ve been fascinated with the cultural shift required by organizations to fully embrace social business and how leading companies are transforming on the inside to embrace the outside. I’ve been equally fascinated with how business leaders still think social is just a marketing or public relations function. “So you are saying that in order to develop a social strategy, we have to change our culture? Are you crazy? I just want a Facebook and Twitter page. “ “Yes Yes! Let’s do social and let’s be open! Hmmm…. that means we have to change the way we lead? Forget it, let’s just put our ads up on YouTube.”

Five Rules of Open LeadershipThe degree of openness and cultural shift required by companies is determined by organizational and strategic goals. At the foundation though Li provides five rules for open leadership to help foster these new relationships.
1. Respect that your customers and employees have power
2. Share constantly to build trust
3. Nurture curiosity and humility
4. Hold openness accountable
5. Forgive failure

Charlene gives solid evidence and affirmation that “doing social” requires internal business transformation. As rule one asserts, power (or illusion thereof) is no longer an exclusivity of the boardroom. True power is in the hands of the customers and those closest to and engaging with the customer. It always has been. Social technologies though are shining a flood light on and calling attention to this dynamic like never before. Savvy digital customers who call a spade a spade will accept nothing but the truth. The speed of communication online is demanding internal efficiencies and quick access to information. Polished corporate messaging is not trusted online. All of which is challenging the old school hierarchical command and control style of leadership.

Being open, transparent and authentic doesn’t mean that companies mindlessly open up and share all knowledge and data irresponsibly – that would be foolish. Charlene encourages leaders to develop “sandbox covenants” – guidelines to structure process, policy and behavior. I often hear people talking about the risks of allowing employees to engage online and fears of openness. What if employees start chatting about our confidential information? What if they divulge our recipe for our secret sauce? What if, what if, what if? Charlene hit the nail on that head when she asks the reader, have you heard of any damaging business secrets being divulged by employees of those most engaging and open brands we all want to model?

Open Leadership. I can’t wait to see where companies are at a year from now. In my opinion, the front runners will be those who continue to innovate and embrace Charlene’s direction and the direction of business leaders and consultants who champion openness and cultural transformation. Stay tuned.