To face the challenges of the Social Age, a time when change is constant and innovation and creativity key for survival, organisations need social leadership. Social leaders will enable them to develop and maintain their agility, their ability to respond to change, to innovate and be creative, to survive. They need people who are fluent in the technology and social conventions that enable the formation of communities and the engagement of those communities with the everyday challenges of the business.
But social leaders may not arrive through traditional development channels. They may emerge from within or need to be attracted from outside the business. Social leaders may not be identified or developed through existing success planning efforts.
From an organisational perspective, we have to recognise that, as we move ever further away from the concept of ‘jobs for life‘, we can no longer expect to have a monopoly on leadership development. People are owning their own careers, outside the formal hierarchies of positional power and authority, which are, in any case, crumbling under the agility and effectiveness of more social models. We need strategies to attract great candidates from outside the organisation, and we need a curriculum to develop social leadership internally.
Social leaders are founded more on their ability to create meaning than their pure knowledge, something that we need to keep in mind when we go looking for them. Whilst historically the organisation has used formal training as a chance to impart both knowledge and skills, today it’s worth thinking more about providing mentoring and challenge.
Knowledge itself is easy to come by, and skills are forged in the fires of practice, the reality of constant change and deadline driven projects. What is harder to come by are great mentors and appropriate challenge, so by providing this and organisation can become magnetic to talent (both internally, to retain emergent social leaders, and externally to attract them).
In the Social Age we see that people are more attracted to formally recognised qualifications, so simply saying we run an 18 month leadership programme for top talent may be less effective than saying we provide internal and external mentors (and support your time to work with them), we provide dedicated spaces for challenge (internally for cohorts and with external expertise bought in for specific units) and that we support you eventually pursuing an external qualification (recognising that nobody will be here forever and that transferrable qualifications are meaningful).
Social Leaders can be recognised by having a strong reputation: they will be active in communities and able to use that engagement to be more effective, individually and within teams. It’s a trait of social leaders that they don’t just develop their own skills, they have the humility and foresight to develop others, recognising that teams are stronger than individuals.
In the diagram above you’ll see that the foundations of social leadership are supported by a network of mentors, people who help emergent social leaders to define the spaces to work in and moderate their actions with the experience of others. Once the foundations are in place, and reputation is building, it’s community and knowledge management that are key. Fluidity of role within community is important: because social leaders don’t rely on positional authority, often they are not in a leadership role at all, and certainly there is no assumption that they will be.
Knowledge management is important because social leaders are islands in the sea of dross that flows through official communication channels. They filter and sort, adding value to anything they pass on. Contextualising information and making it relevant to audience, as well as using data driven conversations to influence and support.
Authority is not the end point of social leadership: it’s a by product of the activities that make a leader. If you are agile, if you are supported by appropriate mentors and engaged within communities (in fluid roles, adding value), if your approach to knowledge management is strong and you contextualise knowledge appropriately, then your authority will grow.
For organisations, the challenge is twofold: firstly, to recognise that the existing, formal hierarchies, are changing, that the leadership models of the twentieth century Knowledge and Manufacturing ages may not suit the twenty first century Social Age, secondly to recognise that we don’t forge social leaders through courses and accreditation, we do it through mentoring, reward and the creation of spaces for talent to thrive.
Whilst the very nature of work is adapting to the realities of life today, whilst we see increasing focus on ethical business and collaborative working, there has never been a better time to assess your stance on social leadership.