Listening like a leader

The organization of which I am the most senior officer is currently running a survey to find out what people think about our services.

It’s the first time we’ve done it to this extent. It’s a light touch survey, designed as much to get us into the practice of using data in this way as to be the cutting edge of statistical practice.

We’re a small organization. We don’t have a social media or comms strategy yet, so I’ve been firing out occasional tweets promoting the survey. When someone not resident in our catchment area was sarcastic in return, I made light of it. Thing is, I made light of it from the Town Council account.

Now, I don’t have a problem with the tone of that reply, or which account I used as such. However, I do wonder how it will be perceived by our audience. Will they see the authentic voice of the Town Clerk, light hearted, positive and willing to try and make progress? Or will they see a bureaucrat hiding behind an anonymous account?

That’s why I’ve been experimenting on Facebook with responding from a personal account. If good leadership is authentic, will I appear more authentic by replying from the same account that I use to talk to my cycling buddies? The odds are that one or more of my friends will end up saying something that will give someone who doesn’t know me well cause to take offence.

Similarly, do I want everyone I interact with professionally to see what my family and friends say to each other? The answer has to be no. So I’m experimenting with what all leaders do to a certain extent; a guarded listening in which you hear, acknowledge and respond without over-sharing or relying on disclosure to generate spurious empathy.

That’s what Facebook security setting are for; to allow us to interact, but to maintain layers of privacy. If you see me responding to you on Facebook, and click on my account, you’ll see that most of what happens on my Facebook account is only shared with friends. The reason is quite simple. That’s how all of us behave at one time or another, only sharing or disclosing enough to make a conversation work.

There’s another side to it though; a side I don’t want to lose. When I reply to a resident, on Facebook, I want them to know I am accountable for the business I run, a small council trying to be a very good council. Good businesses need good leaders, and I want everyone who engages with me to have the chance to form the conclusion that I am trying to be a good leader of the business of the council.

In turn I want them to also see the limits of my role. I’m not the leader of the council. I’m the leader of the staff team who are committed to enabling the elected councillors to do all the things they want to do for the people they represent.

So if you wonder sometimes why I reply in person, not via the Town Council accounts, it’s because I’m testing out a hypothesis that residents will react more positively to a name and a face, not a corporate logo. Let me know what you think. My work email is Town.Clerk@Berwick-TC.gov.uk

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