Buzz 2010: Open Leadership is Inspirational

I had the pleasure of attending Buzz 2010 last week to hear Charlene Li discuss open leadership and what it means to be a leader in this era of rapidly changing social technologies.

Some key things that I walked away with include:

  • Openness is something that requires building a framework and defining what it means for you and your organization.
  • Openness pays dividends back, especially when you consider in how the lifetime value of a customer has changed (once you factor in sharing, recommendations, etc.)
  • Open leaders are at all levels of an organization.

As she points out “Be Open, Be Transparent, Be Authentic” are current leadership mantras.  However, as I have started reading the book and looking back over my notes from the session, I have drawn a conclusion that is more relevant to my own leadership and working style.

Open Leadership is Inspirational

When I look back on my career at the leaders that have made the biggest difference for me… they were open leaders.  These were leaders that taught me to value the contributions of the team, to be open and share insight so everyone on the team can succeed, and to make sure that them team gets the credit.

In the “free agent” economy it is easy to get caught up in constantly promoting yourself and trying to secure that next job (or keep the one you have).  But you do so at the risk of being open to honest feedback from everyone around you.  And I think that open dialog is key to being a strong leader in this age of open access and instant feedback.

When done well, you inspire others to be like you.  And I think that’s the greatest gift I have learned from other leaders throughout my career…. and one I hope I have passed along to people I have managed.

How does Charlene’s points affect leadership and management in this open style?

  • Building a framework. You still need to identify what you can and can’t be open about.  But after you have that open dialog and share both the good and the bad, when it comes time to have the “tough conversation” you have earned enough emotional currency with your teams that your sudden shift in persona carries weight – and gets results.
  • Openness pays dividends back. Managing multiple generations means managing competing motivations.  Openness opens up a whole new realm of tools at your disposal to manage your teams.  Additionally as you look out for your team’s ultimate career goals, when they “leave the nest” you have a vested relationship that continues to pay for itself as they and you open up opportunities to each other.  (Instead of “lifetime value of a customer” think about “lifetime value of an employee”.)
  • Open leaders are at all levels. To me, the way you treat both a CEO and an entry level employee says a lot about you.  Any one of your employees or team members could become the next big thing or you could be talking to them about your next career objective.  By being open and looking at the value of the team, you value each person’s contributions without worrying about your own individual role.

While the presentation was more directed to organizations coping with the realities of social media in a fast moving economy, I couldn’t help but take away some leadership lessons.  Because in the end, the traits that make for an open leader are valuable traits that will also enable social media success.

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