The world is changing: as we move ever deeper into the Social Age, those things of which we are certain, those things which are familiar, evolve to become somehow strange and different. The widespread emergence of social collaborative technology has led to fundamental shifts in how we communicate, how communities emerge and function, and the balance of power between organisation and individual. We’ve seen the nature of work itself change, away from something constrained within an office, limited by hardware, infrastructure, and geography, towards something that we do all the time, in many ways, many locations, and with many different people. There are common elements: the new world is social, connected by communities at many levels. In the old world we had formal hierarchies of power and control, governing through rules and the execution of formal power. In the new world, we see the emergence of social authority, based upon reputation, and governed by the community itself.
Today at a conference, one that I attend every year, and within a community that I’m engaged with almost every day. I come to this conference not to find answers, because I often don’t even know the question yet, but rather to build the connections, to earn the trust, to share the stories, which will help us build, together, the community within which we will explore this new space.
I use that term exploration intentionally: I consider myself an explorer of the Social Age, often lost, reasonably well prepared, and wearing stout boots. But the most important thing that makes me an explorer is that I have a healthy willingness to get lost. Take the work on trust that I’ve been doing this last few weeks: it may go wrong, it may fail, I may simply be unable to make the work coherent, but I’ve chosen to #WorkOutLoud as an approach where I will share the journey as I make it and at least be lost in good company.
I’m launching the second edition of the Social Leadership Handbook at the conference tomorrow. Once ideas are captured within a book, in many ways they ceased to be the product of #WorkingOutLoud, but rather become the output from it. The original Social Leadership Handbook grew out of a series of 50 original articles, and this second edition is the product of a further 35 pieces of writing. The challenge of writing it was not to come up with new ideas, but rather to understand the evolution of old ones as they were tested in the real world and within the community.
The handbook is a broad exploration of this new world. It starts by looking at the Social Age, mapping out the change that we see, and trying to make sense of it. It looks in particular at these new types of power which are emerging and charts development pathway for Social Leadership.
This pathway takes us through nine areas: curation, storytelling, sharing, community, reputation, authority, co-creation, social capital, and collaboration.
We start by curating a space, choosing the thing that we will be known for and considering how we will be authentic in all our actions, how this will form the foundation of our social leadership. We look at storytelling, because stories travel at different levels throughout the organisation and beyond: Social Leaders need to be great storytellers, sharing personal stories, helping communities co-create stories, and helping the organisation itself built its narrative, and once the stories are written, they need to be shared, widely and yet wisely, contributing to the signal, not simply adding more noise.
A Social Leader will be a member of many communities, some of which they will join and lead strongly, many of which they will simply be active members of, and some of which they will need to form themselves. Within these communities they built a reputation through their actions, and it is this reputation which is the foundation of their Social Authority. Social authority sits at the heart of Social Leadership: it’s the authority given to us by the community, not bestowed upon us by the organisation. Social Leadership is highly contextual and earned over a period of time by earning the trust of the community through our humility and generosity.
Once we have Social Authority we are able to be active and engaged members of our communities, these communities being the sense making entities that will help us survive and thrive in the Social Age. Communities offer us challenge and support, they nurture our new ideas and introduce us to even better ones, they can give us a tempo in our actions and help us learn when to stop doing things as much as when to start them.
Social Capital describes our ability to survive and thrive in this new space: we need high Social Capital ourselves, and as Social Leaders we need to develop it in others. We need to fight for equality and fairness in everything that we do, both individually and as an organisation. By doing so we can create an organisation which is more Socially Dynamic, connected and engaged, and able to face the unexpected challenges thrown up by the Social Age.
Social Leaders collaborate widely, both within spaces that they know and are familiar with, and with spaces which are unknown, unfamiliar, where they learn and engage in new ideas, making sense of them, and bring the best part back to their community.
The third section of the Social Leadership Handbook is a series of stories of application, looking at the challenges and opportunities that emerge as we develop Social Leadership capability.
There’s a great deal of value in the things that we did before: we still need formal leadership, and to do all of the great work we’ve always done to develop it. We still need formal learning. But this is not enough. The Social Age is about the convergence of formal and social spaces, and formal approaches will only get us so far. To engage in social spaces we need Social Authority, we need strong Social Leaders at every level. Some of these Social Leaders will be the formal leaders in the organisation, but many will not. Many Social Leaders will emerge from within the community helping us to transform our organisation to be less static, more dynamic, more fair, more effective, and better suited to the challenges that we face in the Social Age.
Our choice is, what will we do about it? The power to change our organisations is in our own hands.
Social Leadership Handbook is available now in hardback and e-book formats.