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Advantages of the New "Social Leadership"

Social media is affecting – some might even say transforming – both our personal and our work lives. In the workplace it is becoming a powerful tool to galvanise the workforce, and ‘social leaders’ who can effectively embrace the scope of social media, community and learning, can make an impact that is unprecedented. This new phenomenon can, not only engage, but also drive a high degree of innovation and creativity.

Getting the Platform Right

If you have the right social media platform for your audience, you can build a highly energised online social community. Written messages or recorded announcements and videos can all be circulated universally, and these can be ‘liked’, commented on or shared freely. Employees can respond instantly and communication is transparent — an open and free forum for discussion. The platform and the information are there for all to see and interact with, and this can drive an unprecedented level of engagement. At ChapmanCG, a virtual business, using social media is at the heart of what we do, and we have experimented with a number of tools on this front from Whatsapp to Google Hangouts to Microsoft Yammer. Yammer even allows employees to conduct a live poll to gain a consensus on an initiative or idea. We have had to be flexible and have changed the platforms as and when we have needed to, but ultimately they have all allowed a level of collaboration and community, which helps people at all levels feel respected and valued for their input.

Authentic Storytelling

For a leader within a social environment, it is important to not only choose the right stage to perform, but to utilise storytelling effectively. This requires learning how to structure the narrative, and then telling stories that are relevant and timely, but the most important aspect is being authentic. As Julian Stodd from Sea Salt Learning comments, “Within the Social Leadership frame, authenticity is important because it’s a factor in reputation, and reputation leads directly to social authority, that form of authority which is granted by the community itself. By acting with integrity, by being authentic in our action, by being humble in how we work and learn, we can be granted reputation and, hence, gain Social Authority.”

The Social Age

Social Leaders therefore need to work alongside and within their communities, where authority is based on reputation, not position or hierarchy. The Social Age is about co-creation and co-ownership, whilst acting with humility and constantly learning. Fostering this learning culture and using social media platforms to embrace learning also creates opportunities for organisations and leaders to further engage the workforce. At ChapmanCG we have a Facebook@work platform where employees share everything from helpful cooking tips, to triathlon training updates, to the latest trends on mindspace initiatives. Having built the community, social media can create a global classroom where people can share and trend learning programmes that are relevant and interesting. Organisations like Accenture are at the forefront of embracing this concept. Not only does the company have connected classrooms, but it also utilises a progressive digital learning ‘on the go’ platform, so employees can connect and learn anytime and anywhere through mobiles and tablets.

As Julian Stodd comments, “For this new model of learning to work, it needs space to flourish. As well as looking at learning, organisations must adopt a holistic pattern of adaptation, which will see them change every aspect of what they do, from their approach to technology, to the ways they lead and the ways that they manage performance. Annual reviews and closed systems will no longer cut it. Formal leadership alone is simply a route to redundancy. In the Social Age, only the agile can thrive.” This is another interesting point, and we are seeing a number of HR functions innovate with regard to how they measure performance or instruct learning.

Generating Ideas Through ‘Social’ Collaboration

The level of collaboration in a ‘social environment’ is also something that can lead to increased idea generation. Leaders who encourage and enable this kind of employee engagement and cross-pollination in every area of their organisations, will likely benefit from an organic flow of new innovations. On the flip side, if you take an organisation where there are a large number of employees who aren’t engaged, this can be detrimental to progress. As Julian Stodd comments, “When we are in the grey space, we are not fully engaged, but neither have we fallen away. These are people who may be dragged along, but only at a cost of energy and effort. These are the people we need to engage, with fairness, with respect, and with purpose if we want to truly make the organisation dynamic again.”

Finger on the Pulse

Finally, social media can allow leaders to keep in touch with what’s happening almost in real time. Successes are celebrated quickly, and resources can be added rapidly and visibly to solve problems. Setbacks are easier to highlight, and tweaks can be made more swiftly. Social media has a beat, and therefore effective leaders must learn how to respond to this beat and check the pulse. “When they do, they discover they have a whole new set of eyes and ears,” according to Meghan Biro on The social age we live in will reward dynamic organisations in which change is constantly embraced, and employees feel part of a community where communication is valued between all levels, and hierarchies are broken down.


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