The conundrum of leadership and open collaboration in the social era

For those leaders that think social collaboration is a waste of time, think again.  The chatter among many leadership pundits today is on the topic of open leadership and letting your employees get to know you on a more personal level.  Being a leader doesn’t mean you have to be isolated from daily interaction with your most important asset – your people.

Leaders within many organizations have a difficult time effectively engaging with their workforce outside of the traditional weekly e-mail updates from the CEO or monthly all-hands conference calls.  Often these types of communications are event driven and business focused in nature which doesn’t offer much opportunity for employees to develop a relationship with senior leaders.  Employees want to know what drives the CEO and identify with their passions and values.  While town hall meetings and the rare one-on-one conversations are traditional ways to accomplish this, it is not the only means in today’s social world.

Socially-driven processes are challenging traditional approaches to business and allow people to connect and interact with unprecedented speed and ease as social engagement proliferates deeper into our personal and professional lives.  Stephen Lamb, CIO of the British Columbia Institute of Technology, is one of those leaders that has given much thought to how social engagement can be leveraged effectively.

“Open collaboration affords leaders to reach-out especially in larger organizations as their true-self, as opposed to just a title on an org-chart somewhere.  Making the connection; reinforcing a common purpose is key,” says Lamb.  True…leaders of large organizations are busy and pulled in many directions on a daily basis – we get that.  How do leaders keep pace and connect with employees in today’s world when it is unrealistic to have weekly town hall meetings?

Engaging in the social world doesn’t mean the only options to connect with employees are on Twitter or LinkedIn when social software platforms are proliferating for internal organizational use.  (See Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Social Software in The Workplace).  Leaders need to think deeply about the power of social employee engagement.

“If you aren’t focusing your attention on listening to your employees and customers, then you aren’t going to be very successful in driving the organization forward,” says Lamb.

I don’t encourage CEOs to do social for social’s sake as the purpose isn’t to do social, it is to be social.  To be successful with a social strategy, you need a clearly defined purpose so that you are effective in your approach.  There are consultants and analysts out there today, if not people in your own organization, that know how to engage in the social world effectively to help start you on the path to a leadership style that is based on open collaboration.

Lamb would advise leaders to consider this, “Through a more open and collaborative approach where ‘thinking out loud’ is encouraged at all levels, leaders can begin to bridge the gap with employees that is often so difficult to do on a sustained and genuine basis.”

Until CEOs embrace social as an unstoppable trend in today’s business world, we will continue to see a gap between employees and senior leaders.

Brian Clendenin
Brian Clendenin
Innovating the Canadian Enterprise at Box. Prior to Box, I served at the research firm Gartner and write on the topics of leadership, IT strategy, and the future of work. Invest my time speaking with engaging thought leaders.

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