There’s a big kerfuffle these days as people rush to define Social Leadership. No need to get swept up. It is not hard to nail down: Social Leadership is simply Good Leadership. It’s the “No Asshole” rule, but more nicely phrased.
It also happens to be more possible than ever, thanks to Enterprise Social Networks. Most leaders don’t realize the extent to which typical communications technology works against them at every opportunity.
Email works for monologues, but falters when it is dialogue that leaders want. It fails at showcasing you as a person, someone whom your employees can trust. It sustains tribalism, and makes it harder for your voice and leadership style to reach — unfiltered — your many employees. Good Leaders want two-way communication, and they want to be seen as people.
Conference calls and newsletters all serve their purpose, but fall short. In-person communication is the gold standard, but is inadequate as soon as the team grows larger or more disbursed.
ESNs are not perfect, but they reinforce behaviors that lead to happier, more productive corporate cultures. Employees can form real connections with you, and come to understand you as a trusted person. They will see you every day on the network. It is like having a micro company picnic every day. Fewer hot dogs but just as much bonding.
You need an ESN if you have any hope of implementing the leadership advice that you have read about or, if you are lucky, have actually experienced. Here’s a recap of some of that advice:
Take the advice that one job of great leaders is to seed an opportunity and to lay out a believable challenge. Doing so requires you to shift the burden of thinking to the organization, asking really hard questions at the ground level, and then backing off. It requires you to share your knowledge in a way that invites contribution. I know of no better platform than Yammer in which this process can unfold.
“Because 250 senior leaders were given the opportunity to co-create the corporate strategy, they understood the challenge ahead and knew what actions would be necessary to achieve it.” — Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter
Be Loved First
We find people to be most persuasive when they are charismatic — when they come across as warm and approachable, but also strong and reliable. Though it is a difficult balance to strike, showing warmth first yields the best results. It is why we start meetings by asking how has your day been, asking about your family. “Would you rather be feared or loved?” Both, probably. But you should want to be loved first. Traditional communications platforms make it very difficult for employees to see you as a person first. Here, in a social network, you have the runway to show that you are part of the in group.
“Is this a person worth listening to? Do they understand how the world works—in other words, are they capable? And what is their agenda in talking with you—are they friend or foe?….Your first task when you open your mouth is to get yourself in that circle.” — Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities that Make Us Influential
Global organizations often rival the size of many civilizations. How is culture created? Culture requires learning from others. Some cultural learning is explicit, but much of it is implicit. We have to see someone else acting in a certain way in order to learn from them. How can you easily be a witness to behavior in a global organization? Through transparent social networks.
“Learning from others is second nature to humans: we do it more readily and precisely than any other animal.” — The Ape and the Sushi Master
Employees want to learn from leaders. They can’t help it: In primate studies, all lower status animals will glance at the leader every 20 or 30 seconds. However intimidating (or creepy) it might seem to you to have all eyes on you, embrace it. As a Good Leader, one of the easiest ways for you to be impactful is for you to be observable.
As a bonus, all of this interaction with employees means that you are less likely to become a jerk.
“When the social distance between higher and lower status mammals in a group are reduced, and steps are taken to keep the distance smaller, higher status members are less likely to act like jerks.” —The No Asshole Rule
Employees have largely been treated like children — too tempestuous, inexperienced, uneducated, and erratic to be trusted with the Truth. We have raised employees to be that way, inasmuch as, when we look to history, slaves were raised to be submissive, and women were raised to be gentle things in need of protection. It was thought that a master class was needed to guide and shepherd these groups. Plenty of managers regard direct reports in the same manner. Change this culture.
Leadership advice comes from Change Management theory, from Game Theory, or from Evolutionary Psychology, it is time to start using the right tool for the job.