7 Characteristics Of A Social Leader

Okay, it’s time to come clean: Besides HR and Talent Management – I’m obsessed with social media, community, leadership and continuous learning. And I have been for years. I feel like the world is catching up with what for three years I’ve (obsessively, publicly, passionately) and many others who are champions of social community and learning have been saying – this innovation is a game changer for the world of work.

The full implications and scope of social media and community learning are still unfolding, but let’s look at 7 ways leaders can use it to build a cohesive, charged-up, firing-on-all-gigabytes culture.

1) Communicate. Social media is one of the most effective communication tools in recent history. It turns your entire organization (and beyond) into the town square – also known as an online social community. And even though it’s all enabled through technology, there’s an intimacy to online communication; everyone is participating on their own device so there’s a sense of being spoken to, and speaking, directly. Change initiatives can be broadcast (and monitored) with ease; glitches and roadblocks are spotted and correctly far more quickly. And not only leaders can communicate more effectively. Employees are given a voice and often feel more engaged when this tool is used effectively. You do not have to be an extrovert – all personalities are invited. You just have to be willing to take the leap.

2) Collaborate. This one is off the charts. By now many of us have been involved in social media chats, blogging riffs, G+ Hangouts and webcasts where things just take off. Somebody posts an idea, a video, a photographs, an article – and people start commenting, one thought bouncing off the next, people are riffing, free associating, inspiration and creativity is unleashed and then – pow! – something innovative, amazing, and actionable is right there in front of us. Leaders that encourage and enable this kind of employee engagement and cross-pollination in every nook and cranny of their organizations win points in the social enterprise.

3) Educate. Social media is an awesome learning and community building tool. It turns an organization and social enterprise into a global classroom. Everything from a prosaic process change that has to be learned by rote, to a guest lecture from one of the world’s most brilliant minds, can be broadcast to the desktop and mobile devices of every employee. It’s also an unparalleled arena for questions to be asked and answered delivered. Remember the best college course you ever took, the one that left you high with inspiration, juice and fire in your belly? You can now recreate that in your organization and your community.

4) Engage. With social media every employee (and leader) can engage on a new, highly personalized level. This is an amazing morale builder. Just to know that you can voice your concerns, seek and offer help, and be part of a community, effects a deep change in attitude. When people are engaged, they feel respected and valued. And when that happens, they dig deeper, give more, and are just plain happier. And that’s a beautiful thing, both because it’s the right way to live, and because happy employees deliver amazing results.

5) Monitor. Social media allows leaders to keep in touch of what’s happening in close to real time. Successes are revealed more quickly, and resources can be added to parlay or sustain the gains. Setbacks are easier to spot, and losses can be cut, adjustments made, or reinforcements sent in. Social media creates a central nervous system that is sensitive, responsive and revealing. Social media has a rhythm and a pulse, and leaders must learn how to respond to the rhythm and check the pulse. When they do, they discover they have a whole new set of eyes and ears.

6) Maximize. Social media usage is evolving at a rapid pace. And so is the definition of social media itself. Both are growing evermore exciting, varied and sophisticated. YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, G+ are handing leaders and employees new tools that take the value of social media to new levels. Think employee-generated tutorials and videos. And who says Brandon in shipping’s amazing attitude won’t inspire Christine in the boardroom? Brainstorm with your smartest and savviest and most-plugged in employees on ways to ride this cresting wave.

7) Enjoy. I’ve said it before (and I’ll probably be shouting it until my final days on earth the way things look now): Great leaders and great employees love what they do. Coming to work is coming to play. Of course, there are days (weeks, months) that are stress fests, tension conventions, hell’s bells, but the more you enjoy what you do, the better you will be at. And social media is a wicked (that’s Boston slang that I rarely use) blast. It connects us, gives us a chance to be our best selves in a public forum, is a stage to express our individuality and sense of humor, and is just a flat-out fabulous work tool if you take a chance on it.

It’s been very gratifying and exciting for me to watch millions of people plug into the electricity of social media and community building. Organizations large and small, profit and non-profit, are utilizing this evolutionary leap in new and exciting ways. How can social media take you to the next level? What are you feeling challenged by? I realize often it’s not easy to know where to begin. Let me know please. I’m always here for a listen.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes.

photo credit: Social Media v2 via photopin (license)

5 ‘S’ecrets Of Engaged Social Leadership

A software technology company I consult with is in the middle of a sea change, a shift from one workplace culture to another. This change began when the company brought in a high-level technical executive from another company – not exactly a competitor, but a company in an adjoining market space. Only in tech, market spaces aren’t really independent with no overlap. There’s always the potential for a clash of personalities rather than a happy union. Unfortunately, it has not been graceful for my client. In fact, it’s been one giant stressful process and a wake-up call for the all of our teams involved in mopping up the mess.

The old workplace culture was cut-throat and intensely political, but everyone knew the rules – the employees had been socialized. The new Chief Technology Officer brought in his culture – one in which motives are obscured, and nothing is ever explicit for employees. Suddenly people started getting emails telling them their jobs had changed, and their staffs reassigned to new projects. Nothing was discussed, nothing communicated, nothing socialized. Now the company is hemorrhaging top talent, and the CEO is puzzled. This is good news for recruiters (more jobs to fill) but a bad scene for the company and it’s employer and employee brand. Even worse, a few “former” employees have been blogging about the changes and it’s not okay. This will make recruiting top talent much more challenging for this company in today’s socially connected world. It didn’t have to happen, but what might have prevented the chaos – social, engaged leadership – is not in the CTO’s skill set.

Social leadership demands a set of skills that help to insulate the companies being led from sudden, culturally-devastating change. Don’t get me wrong – change can be good, and it’s often necessary. My client’s company hired an outsider to change technical direction; that part’s normal. What the CEO didn’t anticipate – not because he is a bad person, but because he lacked certain key social skills – was the painful change in culture and the fallout of that change.

In my practice, I work with lots of leaders seeking to expand their teams and make their workplace culture attractive for both potential new employees and current ones; some are socially aware and engaged, some are socially tone-deaf and isolated from what’s happening both in the greater social networking landscape and within the walls of their companies. Both types of leaders can be successful, up to a point – the point where trust, loyalty, values and expectations affect financial performance and company growth.

Being a socially-engaged leader may not be an innate skill for many leaders, but it is increasingly necessary as the multi-generational workplace puts more strain on corporate cultures and social media is opening up channels to “what it’s really like to work at this company”.

Without further ado, here are five skills social leaders possess – and which detached leaders should add to their management repertoire:

1) Sensitivity to non-verbal cues. A skilled social leader does not rely on one form of communication, but practices all – verbal, written, non-verbal, viral, and so on. Being sensitive to non-verbal cues is difficult because it requires a leader to have a well-integrated personality – to understand where her issues start and stop. I’m not saying you have to be a paragon of mental health, but you do need to be able to shut off the noise in your own head long enough to read people and understand what’s going on with them (at a meta level, of course.)

2) Socially interactive. You don’t have to know everyone’s name or how many kids they have, but you do have to be adept at interacting at a social level. If your CEO says ‘Hi’ to everyone but his, her eyes say ‘Stay away.’ This person is not comfortable with social interactions and thus is unaware of how managers and employees are thinking, feeling and reacting.

3) A shared sense of value and purpose. People join companies for lots of reasons, but what’s more interesting is why they stay. They stay because they share the values, the purpose, the mission, and vision. If you’re a leader, and you don’t share your sense of the company’s value and purpose, you’ll be doing a lot of remedial recruiting.

4) Socially committed to a building an engaged community in the workplace. Okay, committed is not an S skill, but what I’m driving at here is the importance of social communities and social media in today’s world of work. Paternalistic managers, top-down leaders, sometimes have trouble with this skill, but it’s critical. Your company is no longer in a bubble; it’s in a social sphere where online communities can influence business results and your company reputation – even, perhaps especially, when they’re not your customers. Is anyone in your company tweeting, blogging or creating social community? Is it even encouraged? Are you blogging as a leader figure?

5) Sincerely interested in your employees, your social talent communities, your environment. You can learn some skills and fake others, but it’s tough to fake sincerity. I’m sure some will argue it doesn’t belong on this list since it’s a personality attribute, not a skill per se. But for me, sincerity is what makes the difference between a leader and a task manager. If you’re not sincere, you’ll do things which might make business sense but which will eventually backfire – as did the CEO I mentioned earlier. Bringing in new tech talent made sense, but neither the CEO nor the CTO valued sincerity or honest communication, and now the company is paying a heavy price.

Social leadership is not a management overlay on a toxic culture; it’s not a Band-Aid. It’s a way of thinking about business, and doing business, in a socially aware and engaged fashion using the power of social networks and communities to relay your personal leadership brand, your employer brand, and your employee brand. It’s how the world of work is today, and how it will be in the future. So engage! Make the move to socially-engaged leadership. No time like the present.

A version of this post was published on on 10/28/12

Photo Credit: spuddleyspudd via Compfight cc