True leaders don’t create followers

They create more leaders.

Yesterday’s focus was on leadership and the day started with a session with Charlene Li, Altimeter Group Founder and CEO, on ‘Creating a Digital Engagement Strategy for Leaders’.

Charlene started with the question: ‘What does mean to be a leader?’ The answer: ‘Everyone of you is a leader. You lead by ideas. A leader inspire followers to do something.’

And the way to exercise leadership is by developing special relationships. The more engage you are with your followers, the more you will succeed as a leader. But in today’s worlds, relationships are short term, transational. However, customers and employees demand two way, constant communications. Today’s leader need to have a strategy for engagement, starting with these three steps: Listen at scale, share and shape and transform.

The best example that Charlene showed was Telstra’s CEO David Thodey. Thodey believes in a customer centric organization and is commited to use LinkedIn and Twitter to listen actively to their customers and employees, act when required. Supported by his social media team, he chooses what comments should he respond to. This does not only help him to build more meaningful relationships but also puts his team on guard. Functions will be acting early on, before they are called out.

Thodey is not concerned about the time he spends in social media, in fact, he finds it highly effective.

Top excuses

So when dealing with leaders, what are the most common excuses they argue not to engage in social media? Charlene Li reviewed and debunked them all.

  • It’s not about me: Well, you are a leader, it’s about you. If you don’t say what you have to say, people will figure it out for you.
  • I don’t have time: No time to listen to your customers and employees?
  • It doesn't replace face to face: We agree. But how you can scale this if you have 51,000 employees?
  • It’s marketing’s job: Does that mean that relationships don't matter to you?
  • Who cares about what do I have for lunch: So… what do they care about?
  • I don’t want to get my company in trouble…

At the end of the day, it’s all about being afraid of failure.


Digital requires new ways of working and a cultural change. At the end of the day, at organizations, culture eats strategy for breakfast. But culture is a living thing. What can you do to move it towards a digital strategy?

  • Develop a culture of sharing. What stories can be shared to inspire action? Sharing shapes relationship.
  • Develop trust: We tend to dance about this issue of trust. It’s emotional. A per Edelman’s innovation barometer, trust is about integrity and engagement.
  • Make meaningful decisions in digital: focus on your goals.
  • Ask the right questions about value: Now, this last point really hit home. We tend to overvalue the things we can measure, we dismiss the value of those we can’t. But how do you measure relationships? The actions we have in social are deepening our relationships. Not measurable but definitely valuable.

Time for a break

After Charlene Li’s talk we headed to the FastCompany Grill. Thanks to the friends I am meeting at the show (it’s all about ‘relationships’), I am getting to learn more about the dynamics at SXSW. For example, almost every single company playing in the social media/communications space, organizes it’s own event with paralel sessions outside of the official program. Thanks to Jackie Cuyvers for being my SXSW mentor! While we have lunch, we have the chance to hear entrepreneurs Payal Kadakia (ClassPass) and Yael Aflalo (Reformation) about how they started their own businesses.

Lunch break at the FastCo Grill at SXSW2015

Putting the relations back into Public Relations

The next big session is at the main auditorium on the Convention Center. Before that, I head to the PayPal Lounge to meet with ex-GE colleague and friend, Aleisia Gibson. Who would have known? In the picture we seem to have a thematic dress code going on. Totally unintentional. But I like it.

The PayPal Lounge is hosted by the one single person that first opened my eyes to the world of social media in PR: Brian Solis (‘Putting the public back into Public Relations’). I have learned so much from him!

I talked to him about how his thoughts helped me shape my career and where I am today. In exchange he says: search for ‘cision white paper brian solis’. I just did. Check it out here. Oh! Surprise, it’ all about relationships.

Clash of Titans

Last big session of the day: Jack Welch vs. Gary Vaynerchuck. The session is really fast. Suzy Welch stands in the middle and fire questions at each other about leadership, social media and trends in today’s world.

Before it starts, Gary Vaynerchuck is livestreaming on Twitter what happens at the auditorium through the new Meerkat app. Do not know what it is yet? Check it out.

Jack, Suzy and Gary discuss what it takes to be a leader, some key takeaways here:

  • Be yourself
  • Be true to your word
  • Help your employees grow. The biggest success for a leader is to see their team progress and have fun in the process. Let your employees know where they stand.
  • There’s not such a thing as work/life balance. It’s a matter of choices and we have to respect them.

It was interesting to hear Jack and Gary talk about social media. When asked to describe Facebook with one word, Jack answered ‘hot’, Gary said ‘establishment’. Now, exercise your own judgement.

When discussing the shift in the media and how the future will look like, ‘Snapchat’ came into the discussion. Suzy Welch said that she did not get why images disappeared to what Gary responded: ‘that’s real life!’.

After this, I ended it up in a crisis communications session, discussing the role of social media, the importance of monitoring, and most importantly, the importance of being authentic, human and quick.

Now for another day at the conference.

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