Reputation in Social Leadership: a first draft

NET Model - Reputation

Reputation subverts more formal foundations of authority, but can be complimentary if we get it right.

The NET Model of Social Leadership defines a style of leadership suitable for the Social Age. It consists of three Dimensions: Narrative (which covers ‘Curation‘, ‘Storytelling‘ and ‘Sharing‘), Engagement (which looks at ‘Community‘, ‘Reputation‘ and ‘Authority‘), and Technology (which explores ‘Co-Creation‘, ‘Social Capital‘ and ‘Collaboration‘). I’ve already written three top level articles covering these areas: this is the fifth in a series exploring each of the nine components in a little more detail. Today: Reputation in Social Leadership.

We’ve covered foundations, but now it’s the hard stuff: Reputation and Authority. One gives the other, but in the Social Age, traditional foundations of authority are subverted by more social and fluid forms.

Reputation is not a matter of marketing: it’s a matter of actions and intentions. More specifically, the actions that are born of intentions. You can be full of good intentions, but if your actions don’t match or exceed them then you’re not a Social Leader. You’re probably falling back on more traditional forms of power.

Power: where does it come from? There are different forms of power, sources of authority. Positional power is the most obvious form of authority: power based in hierarchy and structure. It’s the type of power that we codify in institutions and systems and it’s the least fluid of them all. There is often a view that hierarchical power is necessary in certain situations, when things need to be decided fast or where clear allocation of risk and responsibility is needed, but this is outdated.

Communities are great sense making spaces, but they don’t divest us of individual responsibility. Social approaches don’t require us to abandon formal hierarchies, but they do require us to recognise that our hierarchical power may be matched by socially derived forms, based around reputation.

Subject matter expertise is another form of power: simply knowing more than someone else about something (be it nuclear fusion or how to operate the office photocopier). We all derive some of our power through subject matter expertise, it sits within normal social dynamics and powers our stories and conversations. But only the lethargic will rely on their expertise as a foundation for their power in the Social Age, when meaning is what counts, the ability to create meaning based on knowledge.

As our relationship with knowledge evolves, so to does how pure knowledge informs reputation and authority.

We see this in healthcare right now: we used to go to the doctor to find out what was wrong with us and to make us better. Today, increasingly, people are accessing pure knowledge online and through communities and turning up to see their doctor with an initial self diagnosis and even expectation of treatment. This doesn’t make the role of the doctor redundant: far from it, it changes it from one of pure source of knowledge to practitioner based on ability to join the dots, to work with broad knowledge and experience. Experience is more than knowledge: it’s the benefit of multiple stories, the ability to effect change, to impact through action.

Longevity is a source of power: someone who had done something for a long time or who has been in role forever. This is risky though: where the Social Age rewards agility, there is a risk that longevity alone simply means that you are becalmed by familiarity. That wouldn’t be an issue if the world was static, but in fact it’s changing around our ears and solutions or approaches that worked a year ago may not work now. Agility is the ability to create meaning in the moment and to respond to the change.

We need to reflect on sources of power to see how they are changing as a function of wider changes in society (facilitated by technology).

Reputation is a measure of our standing, a measure of how the community values our input: the greater your reputation, the more you can influence on a particular subject, but also the more willing the community is to tolerate your mistakes. This notion around mistakes is important, especially as formal systems are often somewhat intolerant of failure. If social systems are more willing to provide space to learn, they will inherently continue to grow stronger.

When looking at reputation, we can consider three stages that allow us to take a more active control: ‘navigate‘, ‘respond‘, ‘evaluate‘.

It’s part of actively curating our reputation: to chart a course through all possible actions, recognise when we are responding through habit and reflect on that to see what source of power we are drawing upon, respond to the triggers to moderate our response and then evaluate the effectiveness of that response and quantify how it enhances reputation. Finally we reflect and narrate, staples of ‘working out loud‘, a reflective approach to developing capability.

Let’s look at these in more detail.

Active reputation

Navigation is a mindset: out of all possible courses of action, which one will we take and are we being pushed there by the current or actively choosing the route?

We are creatures of habit, which makes us both effective (because we efficiently deal with recurring situations with the minimum of thinking required) but also lethargic (because we often fail to evolve our responses and to act with agility, testing out new problem solving methods). Habits are neurologically efficient, and effective, but we need to reflect on their appropriateness. Indeed, just recognising when we are responding through habit and when through conscious decision making is valuable.

Once we understand our reliance on habit, we can determine our triggered responses: the reason this is important is because triggered responses reinforce reputation, so if we never reflect upon and adapt our responses, we will forever be caught within current reputation.

Because the Social Age is about creating meaning within the moment, it’s about action review cycles, testing new approaches and being unafraid to modify them. It’s about agility.

Evaluating responses ensures that we are taking a learning approach, not just firing solutions out into the world and hoping for the best. Responses within communities are far easier to evaluate, because the community provides a narrative, it gives us real time feedback.

Evaluation ties in with notions of amplification: as we learn what works, what reinforces our reputation and makes our stories more effective, we should do more of it.

Finally we reflect and narrate: this being a staple of the Social Age. Reflection is about measuring impact and gauging our learning, it’s about inward reflection (how have i changed?) and outward reflection (sharing the story of your learning). We then narrate our learning to the community, to share both the good and the bad, the things we got right and the parts we got wrong. This narrative is an open and honest approach to leadership and directly contributes to our reputation.

Social leaders need a strong reputation in both formal and social spaces. They need to be adept at ‘playing the game‘ within the formal spaces (having data driven conversations, influencing, building formal authority), but also at social approaches (challenging and supporting, even subverting inefficient processes and controls). They have to play both games.

Social Leadership Behaviours

Social Leaders exhibit behaviours that let them thrive in both the organisational and social spaces. They curate their reputation.

We see this with the emergence of the socially active leaders: the blogging and tweeting CEO who is #WorkingOutLoud and directly visible to the community (contrast that to the hierarchical CEO who hides in an ivory tower and rarely meets employees or customers directly on his or her journey from BMW to the lift to the top floor).

Reputation subverts other forms of authority but may, if built well, compliment them. We can have the best of both worlds if we are able to understand what each can give us and be true to both.

About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
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