Open Up and Lead
This week we found out that the federal government tracks every phone call we make. On the one hand, it’s unsettling. On the other, if it helps stop terrorist attacks, it may be worth it. In some ways what was most disturbing about the revelation was its secrecy. Our instinctive response is mistrust: our government wasn’t being open with us. And we all want open leaders.
That’s the lesson in business for companies that are striving to recruit and retain the best talent. When leaders are honest and forthcoming, people feel respected, engaged and invested in the enterprise. Unfortunately, too many leaders still don’t get it: open leadership is the foundation of 21st century success. We live in the age of the individual (some might say narcissist) and old-style, top-down, command-and-control leadership just doesn’t work. It makes employees feel devalued and wary. Just the opposite of what success demands: active, fulfilled employees who are bringing their full talents to work every day.
How can a leader achieve this open ideal?
1) Open door: Everyone in the organization should have access to their leaders. Leaders who welcome input change the entire atmosphere of an organization. Keep your door open, it’s a powerful metaphor for an open organization. And when someone walks through it, no matter who they are, welcome them.
2) Open mind: Brilliant ideas can come from anywhere in an organization. Open leaders listen carefully, welcome off-the-wall suggestions, and understand that clinging to the status quo will soon leave you behind the curve. Refresh and renew your consciousness. Take a class, talk to a consultant, explore a museum. Stretch your mind – like a muscle, it will grow stronger.
3) Open laptop: Many leaders still don’t grasp the power and necessity of engaging and enabling online. Find ways to integrate social media, expert networks, videos, forums, and blogging into your leadership toolkit. This is where employees live nowadays – open leaders must join them.
4) Open standards: Your mission must be stated, but more importantly it must be lived. You have to treat everyone by the same rules. And when a challenge arrives, keep people informed. Nothing undermines morale more than whispers and favoritism.
5) Open heart: All great leaders transcend the sometimes prosaic demands of their organizations and reach people on an emotional level. Make a list of the five leaders you most admire. Bet they all touch something in your heart and soul. I’m not talking about turning your company into a group therapy session, or saying you have to dispense hugs (though hugs can be a very effective leadership tool if done in a way that makes sense to objectives of course), but open leaders aren’t afraid to show some heart in how they lead.
All five of these Open Leadership tools must be employed with sincerity and follow-through. Paying lip service is worse than doing nothing. It’s hollow and people see right through it. Most successful companies born in the Internet Age practice open leadership. Think of Google, Quicken, Zappos, and Facebook, just for starters. Openness is baked into their business and social media model. The old closed system of leaders hiding out in their executive suites is a relic of another age. Why? Because it just doesn’t work in these connected, open times we live in.
So open up and lead and build this into your company culture. What are you waiting for?
A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 6/09/2013