Spotlight on the Social Age: Social Leadership

I’ve just published my 2016 Map of the Social Age and thought i’d follow up by highlighting some key sections and expanding a little. I’ll start with Social Leadership. The premise of Social Leadership is this: we exist in two spaces, the formal and the social. The formal world used to be the world of work, governed by it’s own archaic rules and behaviours. Surrounding this was the social world, run by our own rules and governed by social reputation and authority. Today, these two have collided, and we occupy social communities at work where much of our ‘sense making’ is done.

Map of the Social Age - Social Leadership

Social Authority can fully subvert formal control, whilst formal mechanisms can never fully silence social voices. Many of the infrastructure changes of the Social Age (the democratisation of publishing, the principle of amplification etc) make the voice of the individual ever more powerful, if they have high Social Reputation and Authority. The requirement is therefor for individuals to cultivate this type of authority, and for organisations to recognise the need and support development, of more Social Leaders.

There are other characteristics of Social Leaders that are important: they lead with humility, promote equality, and are fair in their actions. Not because they are just nice people, but because they recognise that within a community, we are all investing in each other, we are all learning, and that only be being fair and equal can we truly engage fully. It’s a competitive advantage.


Formal authority does not translate into social spaces: indeed, it merely makes them formal, killing off the point of the co-creative social space. This is where many organisations fail: they want the benefits of social, but without relinquishing the control required to get it.

I’ve developed some key parts of this work out further. The Social Leadership Handbook presents a structured overview of the nine core elements of Social Leadership, and offers the foundations of a developmental pathway. But organisations need to look beyond this: they need to look at how they tackle leadership development overall.

The Social Leadership Handbook

Within a Scaffolded Social Learning approach, we would not so much tell people what makes a good leader, but would rather create a space, a community and a scaffolding within which they will surface and explore their own definition of leadership and develop and prototype their own new skills and behaviours. It puts an onus on the individual and supports development of a more authentic, grounded and diverse population of leaders, which is to the benefit of the organisation itself.

A problem with much leadership development is that it provides experiences (hotel rooms, bars, lectures and frameworks), but these things are abstract and theoretical. Social Leadership, by contrast, when developed within a Scaffolded Social Learning approach, is inherently grounded in our everyday reality and applied. It’s not a theoretical framework, but rather a practical one. Because if we can’t measure the change, we are not changing.

Three resources that may be useful to explore this further:

The Six Tenets of Social Leadership presents six behaviours that all Social Leaders will exhibit: to be curious, to learn, to share, to be humble, to tell stories and to be fair and protect people.

In ‘Global Perspectives on Social Leadership – Fairness’, i explore the need for Social Leaders not just to do task based activities, but to build shared value and purpose.

In ‘Narrative and Storytelling in Social Leadership’, i explore in more detail how Social Leaders contextualise information and create stories.

You can find the Social Leadership handbook in Hardback or as an eBook here.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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6 Responses to Spotlight on the Social Age: Social Leadership

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