Social Leadership describes a type of authority that applies in communities, outside of formal hierarchy, and based upon our reputation, earned over time. It’s not an alternative to formal leadership, it’s complimentary to it: but it’s reach extends where formal power cannot go. It’s important because, in the Social Age, so much of our sense making and performance is rooted around co-created knowledge, around socially moderated learning, around storytelling and sharing. Today, as i prepare to launch the 2nd Edition of the ‘Social Leadership Handbook’, i want to expand on the notion of ‘curation’, which is the foundation of Social Leadership.
Curation is where we choose our stance, where we decide what we will be known for and how we will build this reputation. It’s a conscious first step where we decide to move beyond formal authority alone and invest in our social reputation. In this illustration, i’ve split out four aspects of curation: choosing our ‘values’, selecting ‘content’, finding our ‘voice’ and selecting a ‘pace’.
Within a formal hierarchy, roles are mapped out and interconnected: i may be senior to you, parallel to you, or beneath you, and with that position come assumptions about power, about decision making, about importance and seniority, about longevity and control. Hierarchies are codifications of power: we are placed within them and subject to their vagaries and moods, empowered and disenfranchised as the winds blow.
Social spaces are not without hierarchy, but it’s informal and far more fluid, reputation based and dynamic. To build Social Leadership, we need to earn reputation, and that’s what the NET model is all about: a development pathway to build our reputation and hence Social Authority, based upon the fairness, humility and consistency of our actions and responses into the community over time.
Whilst Social Leadership is neither guaranteed nor bought, the point of a framework is to give us spaces to think and work within, spaces and approaches whereby we can earn the right to exercise authority, earning that right through our actions over time. Let’s look through each of the four aspects of curation in turn, starting with ‘values’.
Values are our core principles: the ways we wish to frame our behaviour and, hence, our reputation, although ‘values’ are not deterministic. They are lived. I may have a ‘value’ to be honest, but it’s in my execution of my everyday life that i determine whether that is true or not. If i am given too much change buying my morning coffee and fail to point out the mistake in the moment, then i may not be being honest. I can rationalise it in all sorts of ways (“it’s not their money, it’s the international coffee shop who don’t pay enough tax. This time i won”), but that doesn’t change the fact that i have failed to live my values. Values are always aspirational until tested in the cold light of our everyday reality.
In practical terms, this means we have to curate our values as part of curating our space: we have to choose actively those values, not that we aspire to, but that we will live. Now: already you’ll see that i’m moving away from seeing ‘curation’ as simply about choosing ‘what’ to share, because for me, curation is about choosing your space and learning to inhabit it. Certainly part of that will be to select content to share, but it’s only a small part of it. We have to start by considering our core purpose and intent.
Consider ‘stance’: what position will we take around, say, fairness in our organisation? It’s one thing to stand up when we are affected directly, but what about when we see someone else being treated unfairly. Take yesterday: it was hot here in the UK, record breaking hot. One of my friends works in an office, and a decision was taken to wear shorts: not a formal decision, but a decision by the men in a team. Fair enough, except that the women on reception were told that they had to remain formally dressed. So one group of men had made a spontaneous, internally moderated decision to wear more comfortable clothes, and the organisation had not sanctioned them, but it had ensured that it told the women on the front desk specifically that they could not do so. Is that fair? More importantly, if my values are ‘fairness’, should i intervene? Indeed, if i don’t intervene, am i fair? Or do i just aspire to fairness as a value?
Values contribute directly into culture: if culture is co-created in the moment through the actions of every individual then the values that we display contribute directly to the culture we inherit. In this model, it is the actions that we take, more than the aspirations we claim for ourselves, that really count.
So at the foundation of Social Leadership, we consider ‘curation’, and start with values: what stance will we take, what reputation do we wish to earn, and what actions will we take, with integrity, to build trust, to deliver the culture we truly deserve.
There is often a tension between the aspirational values of the organisation, as codified into handbooks and rules, and the values exhibited by formal leaders. Social leaders may need to unpick this dynamic tension, helping formal leaders to be fairer, and helping the organisation evolve its understanding of what ‘culture’ truly means.
Further into the Social Leadership model we talk about reputation as the thing which is earned: at this stage, at curation, we are mapping out the reputation that we wish to earn.
Typically when we consider ‘curation’, we think in terms of content, and that’s certainly a key part of it: what will you share, how will you ensure it’s relevant, and who will you share it with. This ties into some core aspects of community: what’s relevant, what’s timely, what’s shared with authenticity and high social authority, as opposed to what’s abstract, biased, and aimed at influencing us. Formal organisations tell formal organisational stories: they may be good, they may be engaging, but ultimately they are always formal. By contrast, individuals may use more divergent social voices (no brand guidelines here), may not speak as loudly as organisations (we use relevance, not volumes to amplify social stories) but may have high authenticity (independence and social validity).
Whilst it’s fair to say that Social Leadership is about much more than simply social media, the curation and sharing of content through social channels may well be part of the activity that Social Leaders undertake, but, to be clear, Social Leadership describes a socially moderated form of authority, not simply a broadcast channel of technology.
Everything done in social channels should be congruent with the values we have chosen for ourselves: as i say, choosing those values, taking a stance, is the foundation piece. Once that is set, we should curate a type and form of content most relevant to our communities (and share what is relevant only to the community or individual that it is relevant too). But the material shared is not simply curated: it’s interpreted too.
Interpretation is the silent brother of curation: first curate, then interpret (and finally, share, wisely, not just widely). Interpretation is about making something relevant for the audience, about bringing it into their everyday language and usage, so not just ‘i am sharing this’, but rather, ‘i am sharing this because…’, explaining how we feel it is relevant or important. Or, indeed, it’s ok to ask the question, ‘how could we use this?’ Key is that we don’t simply add to the noise within the system: we add signal or sense making.
As part of ‘curation’, we should decide on the uniqueness of what we share: indeed, in the CEDA model, which i write about separately, I consider bias within social communities, where certain sources (e.g. TED, or HBR) are over represented. Is there much point in just sharing what others are sharing (that is the role of an amplifier, not a curator)?
We can actively curate the areas that we share content in, the type of content that we share, and the types of stories that we craft around them: will they be critical, inquisitive, challenging, unquestioning, etc. When we ‘interpret’, we make those choices, and our overall choice is about the flavour of our space. For example, long time readers of this blog will know that i try to abide by certain principles: to always be positive, to never criticise without offering constructive feedback, to always say ‘thanks’ and to always respond to every comment. Thats my aspiration: and it’s you, as part of this community, that will judge whether i get it right. And award or deny me reputation and social authority as a result. That’s the game we play.
If our content is relevant, it must also be timely: something may be of great value to me, but not this week. If we are wise, we will respond to the needs of others, not simply the imperative we feel ourselves: this is partly about being mindful, partly about a mindset of performance. Helping others to succeed, without expectation of reward, which, not i think about it, is as good a definition of Social Leadership as you are likely to find anywhere.
Those are the first two aspects of ‘curation’, i’ll expand on ‘voice’ and ‘pace’ in greater depth tomorrow.
You can now buy the 2nd Edition of the Social Leadership Handbook here.