Open Leadership by Charlene Li

by Marianne Richmond on June 14, 2010

I was able to finish reading Charlene Li’s newest book, Open Leadership on the airplane traveling to NYC for the RWW Real-Time Web Summit and the topic of the real time web presented an interesting parallel to the topic of open leadership. Open Leadership is an awesome road map for corporate and business leaders seeking to understand the new culture of open and how to use the social technology tools to strategically lead their organizations to open success.

At the opposite side of being proactive and setting the course for an open strategy is letting your organization become a victim of social technologies by a refusal to recognize their existence and to embrace rather than ignore them. The first session that I participated in at the RWW Real Time Web Summit began with a discussion of the malicious distribution of false information in real time. This would be the extreme risk that an organization would have in failing to recognize the need for establishing social strategies; United Hates Guitars , Charlene Li’s Chapter One example of what can happen when a corporation ignores their customer’s legitimate issues, hoping they will ignore them into silence and then are reminded that a catchy tune and a YouTube video represent the shift in control of broadcast media and the diminished influence of the millions of dollars spent on “Fly the Friendly Skies” in the face of it.

OK, so that’s the bad news…..Open Leadership is about the opportunity to be open and benefit from social technologies by giving up the belief that information and communication  can be tightly controlled.  The great thing about this book and Charlene Li’s work in general is that there are plenty of definitions, context, data and case study examples of what it all means in the real world. It is not a sit down and read in an hour so that you can be an expert, too book. It is not a sequel to the Groundswell either.  While Groundswell explained and chronicled “a world transformed by social technologies” Open Leadership has a more specific target, those leading the transformation inside organizations.   With that in mind it begins with an organizational assessment, the Openness Audit and then challenges the reader with the question: What are you trying to accomplish? Which is always a great question to ask as one ponders social technologies in light of existing business objectives and strategies because as the book points out it’s all about YOU using social technologies to transform the way YOU lead.

Assuming that the organizational leader has come to terms with the concept of “openness” and accepts the empowerment of employees and customers, Charlene breaks down the “what are you trying to accomplish”  into what she says are the “four underlying objectives integrated into almost every successful strategic plan”: Learn, Dialog, Support, Innovate, and again relates those back to how each fits into individual organizations’ objectives and needs and what the benefits might be to various organizations.  As far as the nuts and bolts of what to do now that the decision has been made to lead, this books provides a checklist for setting social media guidelines and examples from implementation in other organizations, a how-to for mapping the social readiness of your employees and customers, various organization models and even a checklist for an Open Strategy Plan. Checklists are a very good thing…another recent book I highly recommend is The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

If there was a giant FAQ list from corporations considering where social technologies fit into their businesses and answers to these questions with the information and instructions to overcome the hurdles, assess the benefits and the risks,  and then to move forward, that would be a way to describe Open Leadership. There are lots of books on transformational leadership and lots of books on using social technologies but this is the first one that I have read that links the two together. And really whether corporate leaders accept it or not, social technologies have already profoundly changed the concept of leadership thus making this book a must read. In fact it would be interesting to re-read some of the important leadership books of the past few years in the spotlight of social technologies….I think it would seem as if they needed a social technology revised addition.

Returning for a moment to the RWW Real Time Summit in light of Open Leadership…..Twitter and Facebook are most likely the real time web experience most familiar to mainstream corporations at the moment. And with Twitter  especially we have a new kind of content that is faster, less controllable, more public, less verifiable and more verifiable at the same time than the social technologies that preceded it; but maybe the most important thing about it is that it is the beginning of another shift and thus the real time web needs to be integrated into the open leadership paradigm. Corporations and businesses are using Twitter to promote their brands, improve customer service (to “be” customer service), to gain competitive information and so on all in real time. However, this is just the tip of the real time iceberg… Sarah Perez of RWW noted recently,

The Web is no longer static pages of text and still images. It’s alive with tweets, tweetups, live video conferences, uStreams, live-blogged product launches, webinars, live auctions, virtual world meetups and events, time-limited sales and contests, live audio and video podcast recordings, live chats, and more. And it’s all happening in real-time. If you happen to be online during one of these events, then you’re a part of the action, a part of the now-ness of the new Web. But if you log off for a minute (gasp!), you could miss it all.

Or as Marshall Kirkpatrick noted in his Keynote at the RWW Real-Time Summit, Myth #1 is that the Real Time Web is Twitter and Facebook–

50% of the links shortened by are now created outside of Twitter. Real-time search engine Collecta, too, doesn’t just index posts from Twitter, but also collects millions of post from platforms like MySpace and WordPress every day. Besides these social tools, it’s worth noting that a lot of real-time information is now being passed between machines and Internet-connected sensors.

Marshall Kirkpatrick
So, whoa….now a revision for leading in the Real Time Web? Ah but by the time that was written, real time will have moved. The concepts in Open Leadership transcend a specific technology yet the newer technologies such as the real time web make the need for beginning the journey all the more relevant.

Charlene has also generously provided a link to the eight critical resources that are needed to get started with Open Leadership which includes the tools to define your starting point, the Openness Audit, all the way through spreadsheets to measure the value of social technologies in your organization. There is some really great info here!

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