10 Reasons For Social Leadership

As we move ever further into the Social Age, those mechanisms of power and control that got us this far will not be enough to get us the rest of the way: alongside hierarchy and system, we need community and trust, and those will be earned through developing strong Social Leadership as a counterpoint and compliment to formal aspects of power. Why Social Leadership? Here are ten reasons:

10 Reasons For Social Leadership

1. For Innovation: formal systems are good at codifying and repeating things in a safe way, but can be less good at disruption, free thinking and challenge. An innovative company has to hold a dynamic tension between what it knows to do today, and what it may achieve tomorrow, and this tension is held between it’s formal and social spaces. To be truly innovative, i’d argue that an organisation needs to be truly socially dynamic: able to deploy communities, social filtering of ideas, as well as more traditional abilities to exploit the best ideas. But you cannot have an ability to exploit at scale if you don’t have an environment where the ideas are generated, filtered and prototyped, and it’s only with Social Authority and leadership that we can create the conditions for this to occur.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation

2. For Agility: agile organisations solve problems today, but retain an ability to solve them differently tomorrow. it’s this diversified strength that lies at the heart of a Socially Dynamic organisation. Agility may be supported by technology, by system and process, but it’s fundamentally about mindset and interpersonal interaction. By developing strong layers of Social Leadership we can best set conditions for this to occur.

3. For Sense Making: the sense making ability of high functioning communities lies at the heart of the adapted organisation and the potential of Social Leaders. Sense making is about filtering, about new knowledge, about the telling and re-telling of stories, about finding areas of commonality and difference, about prototyping implementation and sharing experience. It’s what communities do, when they are operating at their best, and the role of Social Leaders is to help them to operate at their best. Strong sense making capability is the return for investing in Social Leadership.

4. For Healthy Communities: nurturing, trusting, engaged and dynamic communities sit at the heart of the Socially Dynamic organisation, but we can’t take them for granted. They are the result of high Social Capital, fair policies and accountability, and earned trust. If communities are dysfunctional or simply operational, we don’t get this benefit. Social Leaders are able to operate in communities spaces, from within. Formal leaders can only operate from outside: if we try to impose formal power in social spaces, it simply makes them formal.

5. To Earn Trust: trust between individuals and organisations is earned through a consistency of response over time. There is no shortcut: we have to be fair, to be just, to be considerate and to lead with humility to earn this trust. But one we have it, engagement is easier. Trust can never be taken for granted: as hard as it is to earn it, it’s easy to lose it. Social Leaders gain their power from Reputation, earned within community: it’s a form of authority imbued upon them by the community, and embodies trust.

6. For Fairness: the Socially Dynamic organisation will be fair in word and deed, and by doing so, it will attract the best talent and create the conditions for that talent to thrive. Fairness cannot be assured by formal systems: it can only be lived through experience that crosses through both formal and social spaces. Fairness is something we can work towards, if we use appropriate frameworks, to listen and learn from our communities, and if we are willing to constantly adapt. Fairness is not something we impose on a community system: it’s something we are judged against through our organisational actions.


7. To Grow: to grow an organisation, we need both formal and Social leadership, because growth requires both infrastructure and community. No one form of power can give you both.

8. For Problem Solving: the Social Age provides ever more complex challenges, not just within known and existing markets, but in emergent spaces as the very business models and markets we are familiar with change and grow. To solve problems effectively, we need to hear a wide range of voices, to be open to a wide range of challenges and solutions. That’s why the Socially Dynamic organisation is so powerful, because it has abandoned it’s Victorian reliance on system, process and control, in favour of a fluid adaptability, based upon trusted community, individual agency and amplification through social filtering. All empowered by Social Leaders.

9. To Change: at the heart of the Dynamic Change Framework that i’ve shared recently is the difference between ‘Constrained’ and ‘Dynamic’ organisations. Constrained ones are wiling and able, but fundamentally unable to relinquish control. They seek to maintain control of stories and impose their will upon community, instead of learning from that community. By contrast, Dynamic organisations have restricted the vertical mechanisms of control to be facilitating and fluid. They are agile by design, able to change and change again, without getting breathless.

Unheard Wisdom

10. For Unheard Wisdom: in formal spaces, we hear heard and permitted wisdom. In social spaces, we can have the privilege of hearing the unheard wisdom, which may be precisely what we need to be hearing. But i say ‘privilege’ because we have to earn the right to hear it. Formal leadership can only operate in formal spaces: with strong Social Leadership, we may get to hear the unheard wisdom that we need to hear.

These are only ten aspects of Social Leadership, ten reasons we need to be open to new models of authority and power. In the Social Age, only the truly agile can thrive; our role is to help our organisations adapt to this new dynamic, and Social Leadership is one aspect of that. Power through community: fluid, co-created, adaptive and responsive. And, above all, fair.

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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