5 Elements of Curation in Social Leadership

I wrote about Curation in Social Leadership yesterday in preparation for a webinar that I’m delivering tomorrow: having introduced five elements, space, content, stories, reputation, and values, today I’m going to build those out a little further. In the context of Social Leadership, Curation is the first step. It’s about finding things out and determining what is valid from what is just noise. It’s about identifying networks and communities and seeing where the nodes and amplifiers sit. It’s about quality and coherence, not simply volume and mass.

Curation in Social Leadership

The first step to developing Social Leadership is to choose our space. This is the foundation, it gives us the rock upon which to build, because we have to start somewhere, and we need to achieve focus. The foundation is not the end of the journey, it’s what we build upon, so we are not constraining ourselves, but rather starting to shape our own development pathway. For example, I may wish to start by being a great project manager, but that doesn’t mean that I will ultimately build my reputation around that. It simply means that I will start by trying to build a reputation there, learning how to master the skills of Social Leadership.

Curation in Social Leadership

When we choose the space, we also set the rules: it’s a core principle of Social Leadership that we take active control over what may otherwise be accidental. What are the principles by which we will behave, and by which we will react. For example, around the block I have a specific set of principles which I have written about before: to always be positive, to share examples well I’m suggesting that things could be better, to never be negative about people or their work without engaging constructively, to always respond to comments and questions. I may not always achieve this, but I strive hard to get there, because our reputation is earned over time, and it is over time that we need to strive to build it.

We choose the stance that we will take: will we be drawing upon all of our varied sources of power, or specific ones. Will we seek to connect people, will we seek to bring in new sources of knowledge, will we tell personal stories or bring in stories from elsewhere in the network? The stance we take is something we can actively choose and in parallel to that is the attitude that we bring. It’s okay to be the comedian, to be serious, even to be challenging, and highly assertive, but we should recognise that this is a conscious choice in our Curation. If you are trying to cultivate a reputation for quality, the misuse of comedy may be a mistake. And all the time remembering, that we are trying to oust the signal not the noise, so unless we are specifically curating a light-hearted reputation, we may want to think twice before sharing amusing cat pictures.

Of course, if our space chosen is to unify the community, to bring people together, then cat pictures may be precisely what you need. It’s simply a matter of conscious choice rather than random effort. I realise I’m at risk of making Curation sound like it’s no fun, and whilst that’s not my intention, there is a serious intent to this: role of social leaders is to make their organisations better, more fair, more equal. It’s to question and challenge. So there is a serious side to it.

Curation in Social Leadership

In a traditional view of Curation, we think about content: this is after all where we derive the context from. Victorian curators with long grey beards and top hats, roaming the land acquiring artefacts to take back to their wood panelled museums. Librarians curating a collection, consciously selecting books which fits within their category. It’s an active process of selection, we don’t Curate everything, but rather a subset of the whole.

In that context, we should consider the sources that we draw upon: in the CEDA model, which explores the health of Social Learning communities, we look at bias. Is there a bias in what we curate? For example, is everything that we share from the Harvard business review? Or from Wikipedia? There’s nothing wrong with the sources that we use, but we should recognise that if we always quote the same sources, we us are assuming the bias of those journals and sources. When we look more widely across the community, does everybody share that bias?

We can also look at the style: do we always curate written articles, or sometimes videos? Is all of our content long, or is some of it short? Most importantly, is it aligned with the space that we have chosen? It’s all very well choosing a space as a conscious activity, but if what we curate is not aligned with it, or at the very least if we do not attempt to align it with context, then we are already diluting our own space. Does what we curate fit the reputation we are trying to build?

Curation in Social Leadership

When I talk about stories in Curation, I’m talking about the stories that we curate, not the stories that we use to share into our networks, which comes later in the Social Leadership model. Consider the types of stories: do we just curate formal stories, stories from the formal voice of the organisation, from formal channels, well produced, but ultimately abstract, and possibly lacking authenticity, or do we curate social stories, likely to be untidy, more multitudinous, but highly authentic, at least if we curate effectively!

Do stories have a cultural bias? In a global organisation, we always curating stories from the US? Or Dubai? Or Mumbai? Or do the stories themselves perpetuate stereotypes? This can play both ways: certainly I’ve worked with a team before where feedback was that we could not show a woman as a manager, because in that organisation, no women were managers. That represented a cultural norm in the society where the stories were being shared. We’ll revisit this when we think about values: what if we are unable to share the stories that we know to be authentic? As social leaders, fighting for what’s right, what do we do when there is no universal notion of right?

Do our stories align with the existing culture of the organisation? Or are they countercultural? Sometimes there is great value in countercultural stories, it opens up a space and a permission for other people to share ideas that we may benefit from. Indeed, there are times when we need subversive stories, stories that challenge the hierarchy and status quo of the organisation.

Subversion is key for the Socially Dynamic organisation: an ability to hear not only the voices that it wants to hear, but to hear the voices that it needs to hear. Part of our role as curators may be to surface those voices, either the voices that we hear in the social spaces of the organisation, or those that we hear in a wider community that need to be shared. Amplification is a feature of the Social Age, but it’s not simply our role to passively hope other people amplify our stories, when it’s right, when it’s aligned with the space that we have chosen, we must amplify those of others, especially when there are important stories that need to be heard.

We can curate stories that reinforce the position of the organisation, actively seeking out a range of evidence for the path we are taking, but of course, only doing so if we genuinely believe that the evidence is correct. If we choose stories to shore up a course of action that we do not believe in, we are acting without authenticity.

Curation in Social Leadership

Later in the Social Leadership model, we look at reputation, and the way it is earned through our action. Whilst considering Curation, we should nevertheless think about reputation: if we curate our space carefully, choose the right content, and share the right stories, we can impact our reputation, but if we fail, a reputation will be imposed upon us. Reputation is earned, it’s not determined simply by what we share. In a separate body of work, I’m looking at the Landscape of Trust, as social leaders we wish to be trusted, and we must curate the reputation that will support that.

Inevitably, we will get things wrong: reputation is not fixed, we do not choose a reputation, earn it, and then wear it like a badge forever. Part of our own learning journey is to recognise that the space we wish to inhabit will be fluid: sometimes we all make mistakes, and that will impact upon our reputation. It’s at times like that that our ability to have mastered Social Leadership, to have invested in our community over time, will pay dividends. If we fight, and bluster, against the community for judging us, we will make little progress: instead we must engage in the conversation and learn how to do better. And if this sounds hard, remember that humility is one of the foundations of Social Leadership, and humility must be lived, not simply claimed.

Curation in Social Leadership

Finally let’s consider values: there are two types of values within organisations, those that are stated, highly abstract, and aspirational, and those which are lived. As social leaders we must live our values: if we simply subscribe to aspirational values, we are not only perpetuating an inauthentic organisational stance, but we are also eroding our own reputation and authenticity.

Authenticity is quite the buzzword, but not an overly complex topic to grasp. Authenticity is a lived value, it can never be an aspirational one. But to be an authentic social leader may take us into opposition with certain formal positions: indeed in the Landscape of Trust work I look at how there is a gap between our intent and our actions, where we can fall away from authentic.

Curation is the first of nine steps toward Social Leadership: there is a whole chapter on this within the Social Leadership Handbook, but in the work here I’ve tried to develop new ideas around it. The webinar tomorrow is focused very much practitioners, so I’m hoping that much of the conversation will be about the ‘how to do this’ part.

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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