I was asked to write a few pages on the Future of Leadership this week. I’m sharing it here. Regular visitors will recognise parts of this narrative.
We live in the Social Age, where formal models of authority and power are being subverted by more socially moderated relationships, where reputation is key. As organisations see innovation and creativity as key to agility, they persist in mitigating against their own success through an over reliance on process and attempts to control technology. They fail in the gap between process and excellence. Innovation and creativity can only thrive in environments that are inclusive, that develop trust, that are fair.
Our ecosystem is changing: a new social contract and changed nature of work, the widespread adoption of socially collaborative technology, an evolution of our relationship with knowledge and the rise of the Socially Responsible Business, one that recognises how attitudes to equality and fairness equate to shareholder value and agility.
Agility: the ability to respond, to flex, to find the meaning and execute a solution. That’s what sits at the heart of Social Leadership. Knowing things used to be enough, but no more: in an age where technology brings simple knowledge to our fingertips, it’s our ability to work within and alongside our communities to create meaning that counts. Communities are ‘sense making’ entities: providing us with challenge and support, access to expertise and an ability to circumvent hierarchy, but our role in these communities is fluid. Social Leadership is contextual.
The nature of work is changing: less about what happens within the four walls of the office, more about your reputation within communities. Reputation that will get you this job and help you find the next. Reputation that will make you an effective Social Leader by allowing you to draw upon the power of your communities, to create meaning, to share stories widely and wisely.The Social Age requires Social Leaders: leaders who work within and alongside communities to create meaning, to deliver. They are able to operate both within the formal environments and the semi formal spaces that surround it. We view this in three Dimensions: Narrative, Engagement and Technology.
The first concept of social leadership is ‘Narrative’: this is about curation, storytelling and sharing. About finding things out, finding the meaning in it and sharing it with relevant people, adding value as you do so. It’s about being part of the conversation instead of part of the noise. Whilst socially collaborative technologies allow us to share easily, so much of what is shared, copied and re-blogged is simply noise. Social leaders cut through the noise with relevance and clarity.
So Narrative is about:
CURATION – finding things out and determining what’s valid from what’s just noise. It’s about identifying networks and communities and seeing where the nodes and amplifiers sit. It’s about quality and coherence, not volume and mass.
STORYTELLING – do you know how to identify the narrative that sits under the story? Can you find the meaning? Social leaders need to be able to take their curated ideas and knowledge and forge coherent narratives, then flesh them out into stories that are relevant and timely to the audience. It’s about understanding how stories are told and retold, so although the individual words change, the narrative is constant.
SHARING – this is a core skill of the Social Age. Curating content, finding the meaning and then sharing the stories effectively. This may involve technology, but it’s not purely that. It’s a mindset to share that counts: recognising that knowledge in itself is no longer enough.
In summary, Narrative is about curating knowledge, finding the meaning within it, forming stories and understanding how to share and amplify these. Narrative skills form the heart of personal effectiveness for social leaders.
Following on from Narrative is ‘Engagement’. Engagement is about:
COMMUNITY – social leaders operate in communities: both formal and informal spaces where meaning is created. With narrative, we looked at how to be an effective storyteller, with engagement we are looking at the spaces those stories are told in and how to use them to build your reputation and authority. Community is about understanding why people engage in communities and how we can both form and sustain them effectively.
REPUTATION – as we move beyond purely hierarchical forms of power and authority, we enter the reputation economy. Reputation forms the engine of our effectiveness. If our reputation is weak, even if our stories are strong, we will struggle to get them heard or amplified. Reputation is forged in communities, founded on the quality of our stories and effectiveness of our sharing.
AUTHORITY is born from reputation, based on the stories we curate. Authority in the social age is fluid, not fixed in bricks and mortar, and may be contextual. This component of social leadership is about recognising when authority is exercised and how, about becoming magnetic.
In summary, Engagement is about understanding the shape and structure of informal and formal communities, understanding how and why people come together to work and learn. Reputation is the engine that powers our effectiveness: it’s based on actions, not hierarchy, and authority is the outcome. We seek authority as leaders, but it’s based on everything we’ve seen so far: curating knowledge, finding meaning, telling stories and understanding the ecosystem they exist in.
Following Engagement comes ‘Technology’. This isn’t about circuit boards and operating systems, it’s about social collaboration and reach.
CO-CREATION is the process by which meaning is created within communities and the way in which culture changes over time. I use a seven stage model of co-creation, often taking place within scaffolded social learning environments. Co-creation and the co-ownership of change are core concepts for the Social Age. Relevant to this are notions of the three levels of narrative: personal, co-created in groups and organisational.
SOCIAL CAPITAL is one’s ability to survive and thrive in these spaces. Effective social leaders have high social capital and develop it in others. This generosity and humility reinforces reputation and authority.
COLLABORATION is what it’s all about: coming together and creating meaning, beyond that which we can do alone. Social Leaders collaborate widely: they engage in relationships without an expectation of immediate reciprocity. In time, all things balance out.
In summary, Technology is about socially collaborative conversations, about the co-creation of meaning in communities, about supporting engagement and development in these communities and about collaborating, to achieve more than we ever can alone.
Leadership is changing: we need to adapt our view of how we attract and retain effective leaders. We need a model of talent magnetism.