The imperative for Social Leadership

The ability to use a computer, smartphone and tablet is essential to operate in today’s workplace. The ability to negotiate, to set direction, influence and contract with others is also key. The world changes fast and, as it does so, our skillsets for survival have to adapt: we have to adapt to new technology as well as to new mindsets, new social paradigms. It’s my view that our approach to leadership needs to change too. I believe that there is a strong imperative for Social Leadership, agile leadership for the Social Age.

The imperative of social leadership

We need a model for Social Leadership: encompassing the ability to engage in formal and social spaces, to be agile, to define problem spaces and narrate solutions

The Social Age is a time where the relationship between formal work spaces and informal, social ones, is changing. We answer emails from bed and use Facebook at work. We are more likely to turn to Twitter for an answer than the intranet and our personal learning networks are global, bridging both internal and external perspectives into the organisation.

In short, we are connected, we are agile, we are enabled by technology and we own our communities. We are stronger together than apart.

The Social Age requires social skills, social capital: we have to understand the nature of the changing dynamics of employment, of the changing nature of authority, of the changing nature of technology and the impacts it has on trust, on integrity, on privacy and collaboration. For every upside, there is a risk.

We need agility: agility is the ability to create meaning in the moment, to create meaning out of knowledge and to do it again tomorrow, differently, depending on circumstances. Agility is the ability to form and join emergent communities, formed around challenges, situations, shared interests or key individuals. Agile organisations recognise the need to connect and the power of communities for learning, for strategy, for performance support. They recognise that, whilst they can’t own the community, they can engage with it and benefit from that engagement.

Social Leaders possess the skills to engage with a team: not just in the room, but in social learning spaces too. They don’t just have these skills themselves, they share them to develop social capital in others. Social leaders are comfortable with the technology, but recognise that systems and processes won’t deliver: they can bridge the gap between process and excellence and they share their experiences as they do so.

Social Leaders are agile in their communities, being willing to take different roles at different times. They recognise that authority is situational, that in some cases they will be teacher and at other times the learner, sometimes the leader and sometimes a member of a team. They are also agile in their communication, preferring meaningful and targeted conversations rather than ‘reply to all‘. They are economical with their time.

The social leader

Social Leaders demonstrate excellent organisational knowledge and ability to deliver ROI, but also high social capital, are able to build and deploy strong networks

Good Social Leaders define the space for problems to be solved in, but don’t assume they have all the answers. Defining a problem space is a core skill, as is the ability to refine that judgement and react to circumstances. A social learning gaming approach can help to develop those skills, the skill to refine an initial problem space to reflect emerging truths [i'm going to work up some ideas around this over the next few weeks].

Narrating and sharing experience is also the trait of strong Social Leader: humility and the willingness to learn. Narrating our learning is where we draw out the meaning, it’s where we write the first, second and third drafts of our understanding, iterating our way to success. Where power and authority used to be held according to longevity in role or position, they are now focussed around reputation, reputation built in social as well as formal spaces.

There is an imperative for organisations to grow or acquire social leaders. This isn’t some soft skill to make us feel better: the ability to operate as an agile business in the Social Age is the only way to deliver the innovation and creativity fundamental to long term success. Organisations that can’t adapt, that can’t innovate, have a limited lifespan.

Newer, social models of learning and working are subverting traditional hierarchies. We can’t be blind to this change.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Agile, Authority, Communication, Effectiveness, Formal Spaces, Gamification, Informal Spaces, Leadership, Learning, Personal Learning Network, Social Capital, Social Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to The imperative for Social Leadership

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  7. Thank you Julian – an excellent and thought-provoking blogpost. You set out very clearly the fascinating times we find ourselves in and how ‘agile’ we all need to be in moving away from traditional leadership models to social leadership. I am working with experts by experience and Patient Leaders in the context of transformational change in the way health and social care services are delivered. Your blog is very timely and has directly helped me formulate ideas for some creative Whose Shoes? workshops I am running shortly. It underpins my central philosophy that none of us has a monopoly on wisdom and we all need to work together! Thank you.

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