Date: August 20, 2010

Author: JT

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What I’ve Read Lately: Open Leadership

OpenLeadershipCover “Open Leadership”
by: Charlene Li
ISBN: 978-0-470-59726-2

Every once in a while you come across a new book that just knocks the ball out of the park.  And, so it is with Charlene Li’s Open Leadership.  As an active proponent of social media I’ve read a number of books on the topic.  Yet Open Leadership is the first that has a presented a practical, pragmatic, and far-reaching discussion about how to integrate it into the fabric of existing companies.  Not only how, but why, and why now!

Someone looking to do a ‘power-reading’ of the book might tend to dismiss it as a social media ‘how-to’ manual after the first couple chapters.  There’s much more to it though.

Social media is the book’s consistent thread and is pervasive throughout. Yet it’s not about social media itself.  Social media is the contemporary reference to a broad sea change involving how we communicate.  This communication has made it as easy for the CEO to interact directly with customers as it is for the individual employee, and that employee with the CEO his or herself.  When it seems everyone can communicate with everyone else, how can you effectively lead anything? This is the crux of Open Leadership.

In a world where communication drives ever higher levels of transparency, mistakes are on a public plateau, and leaders are encouraged to let go.  Things move too quick for one, or even a select few, to respond quickly enough.  Imagine, developing a way to trust everyone in the organization to do what is right.

Lest this seem to utopian, Charlene provides a series of guidelines for how to introduce more openness to an organization.  For cases where the all-important ROI must be addressed, she provides some reasonable mechanisms for doing so.

At the same time, she provides structure for how to control, provide guidance for, increased openness.  Senior managers may be afraid to let everyone ‘go wild.’ To this, she provides the notion of sandbox covenants.  Provide employees, managers, even customers, guidance with how to interact…what the rules of the road are.

Once she completed the ‘essence’ of how to constructively introduce the openness of social media to the organization, the book seemed to get into second gear.

Open Leadership is about the need to be more collaborative, more open, more transparent, and evolving the relationships needed to make it work.  One note on transparency, openness, and ‘authenticity,’ Ms. Li actively talks about what these mean.  They’re not just buzzwords dropped about.  Just ‘what’ does transparency mean? Do you need to be ‘open’ about ‘everything?’

Most important, the 3rd segment of the book, is primarily about relationships.  Mind-sets. Traits. Trust.  And how each of these need to be considered as you look to evolve your organization.

We all know (or we all should) that the world’s pace has picked up a couple notches.  Everything is happening faster, more visibly, and involving more people.  You can fight it (and you will lose).  Or you can figure out how to thrive and take advantage of evolutions in communication, openness, and lead your organizations (regardless of your role) forward.

Toward the very end, she provides a number of good case studies, including the U.S. State Department, Dell, Proctor & Gamble, Best Buy, and the State Bank of India.

Fortunately, Charlene’s give us an excellent, constructive, guide to start working with.  If you’re even remotely worried, or perhaps just curious, about how social media really can work within your space, you need to get a copy to read.

 

In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher sent me an advance copy for review.  No other monetary consideration exists.

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