I’m working on the final two chapter of the first draft of my new ‘Handbook for Social Leadership‘. I shared a few sections last week and, today, sharing a chunk from the chapter on Social Capital: this is an area i’ve been talking about a lot, but haven’t written much about yet, so most of this will be new in this space, especially the construct of ‘Etiquette‘, ‘Humility‘ and ‘Equality‘. I expect to finish the rough first draft whilst i’m in Singapore this week, then into editing…
The usual caveat for these extracts: this is my first draft writing, complete with typos, mistakes and notes. I’m sharing it as #WorkingOutLoud and in #ConstantBeta
[Technology] Social Capital in Social Leadership
With authority comes responsibility: or maybe responsibility drives a need for authority to enable us to do what’s right. Social Capital can be defined as our ability to survive and thrive in online social spaces, but it’s also about our responsibilities to safeguard others. Leadership in the Social Age is contextual, but always carries a responsibility to be inclusive. It is, after all, social leadership, founded within communities. I’ve become more worried recently that the very technology that permits and enhances collaboration draws ever wider the gap between the socially enabled and the disenfranchised: through poverty, relevance or cultural barriers.
As we’ve seen before, communities are based around shared values, shared responsibilities and sometimes a division of labour, but membership is not automatic: it requires certain social skills as well as the right opportunities. Without access to technology, it’s hard to be a social leader. In societies where the views of minority groups are repressed or ignored, it’s hard to build reputation and be part of a community. And forget about it just being minorities: where women are given fewer rights or lower status than men, or where they are prevented from collaborating widely and freely, we can’t have effective social leadership.
Just as we’ve talked about the socially responsible business, so too we need to consider the social responsibility of the individual: a responsibility to seek out fairness, to act with humility, to support and promote the views of others and to develop the welfare of the community as a whole.
Social Leaders have high social capital themselves: they need to understand the foundations of the Social Age, the realities of the new social contract and the underlying technology. They also foster and develop this capability in others. They ensure nobody is excluded through design or by chance. A high moral imperative you might think, taking is into the realms of social justice, not leadership,mb it why would we aim any lower? There’s no such thing as nearly equal: if we’re not building inclusive communities, if we’re not acting with humility, we’re not living the values required to be Social.
Not that you have to be a saint: it’s fine to be motivated by money, status or position, you just have to realise that this will exclude you from certain social forms of power (although it may, of course, reinforce other more conventional types).
We can view three elements within Social Capital for our purposes here: ‘etiquette’, ‘humility’ and ‘equality’.
The first, etiquette, is, in some ways, the easiest: it’s the simple rules of engagement and effectiveness in social collaborative spaces. This ranges from understanding the behaviours we use online (and how they differ from formal organisational spaces both because they’re virtual but also because they’re social/semi formal), through to understanding the functioning of things like hashtags and forums at a technical level.
Organisations need to consider actively developing these skills independently of specific projects: we can assume that people know how to access and participate in online communities if we like, but if we don’t check, we neglect our responsibilities for inclusion and support. And the rules are complicated because they are not consistent: online social spaces can be complex, hostile, challenging or bemusing and often all four (they can,of course, be simple, supportive, enriching and engaging, but again, we can’t assume this to be true).
Where communities are co-creative and sense making, we have to recognise that roles may be fluid: subject matter expertise may be fluid as well as the conversations develop and may, in the Social Age evolved relationship with knowledge, come down more to your ability to find things out than your actual knowledge of things.
Issues of identity and trust also become relevant: identity is more fluid in online spaces and can form a particular hazard as we become unable to compartmentalise conversations effectively if we don’t understand who is in them. This compartmentalisation is important because we have to allow communities to form and become coherent in their function, which means building shared value and narrative power, all of which is built on a foundation of trust.
These are big areas to get into, and it’s not necessarily the role of social leaders to train people, but they must understand the significance and be able to function themselves, to the point where they can diagnose that others are struggling.
Etiquette is about understanding how things work and being able to participate within social (and technical) conventions.
Humility is a mindset around collaboration and co-creation: it’s a stance we take in community. It’s about recognising the relevance of other views and being willing to set aside our own. Social Leaders are humble because their authority is contextual and consensual, granted by the whim and permission of the community. Social Leadership operates in semi formal spaces where formal hierarchies of power do not apply: it’s not that we can’t apply them, we can of course assert our formal authority, but that then changes the space into a formal one, not a social one, so the context is lost.
Humility allows us to share effectively: as long as we’re prepared to be proven wrong. The point of co-creative spaces is to facilitate the creation of meaning relevant in the moment and the sharing of it through narrative. The point is not to impose our view or dominate the conversation: this would change the space from a collaborative one to a broadcast one, which is what many formal organisational channels become by default: they become about propagating formal organisational stories, not the narratives formed by communities. This ties in with how we organisationally take a stance on moderation and control: it’s all very well allowing debate and discussion, but what do we do when we don’t like what’s said? Especially at times of change, this forms part of the role of social leadership, being humble enough to listen in social spaces when people may be disenfranchised or voiceless in formal ones.
Ultimately, I include humility in the model of social leadership because of my frustration with egocentric models and much of the training done around influencing and management, all of which assumes a foundation of formal power and authority for leaders that simply is being eroded in the Social Age. The role of the social leader is not one of control through exercise of positional authority: it’s one of narrative magnetism, telling stories that are engaging and inclusive and draw us forwards and together.