The answer to the questions ‘why Social Leadership?‘ may rather miss the point: it’s not so much a question of ‘why Social?‘, as much as a question of ‘why not just Formal?‘. Within the visible organisation, within the formal hierarchy, we need strong and effective formal leadership. We should continue to develop and refine our approaches to this. But in the Social Age, formal leadership alone is not enough, because we do not just lead in formal spaces. We exist in a space of dynamic tension, a tension between the formal and social systems, a fulcrum of power between formally moderated and socially moderated truths.
Social Authority can subvert or avoid formal oversight and control: it’s the tacit, tribal knowledge and intent of the organisation, not standing in opposition to, but rather alongside and around, the formal position. Socially moderated stories are often deeply authentic, spread rapidly, and can be magnetic, in contrast to formal stories, which tend to be broadcast, lack authenticity, and grind to a halt unless pushed. The mechanism by which we can lead within the formal system will, therefore, be compromised, if we are unable to draw upon a different form of power, a new type of leadership.
A Socially Dynamic Organisation will understand this: it needs strong formal, and strong social, leadership. It needs both. Why?
Because social communities are strong ‘sense making‘ entities, able to filter and figure out where the true meaning lies, and what we can do with it. We are increasingly relying on socially filtered mechanisms of review, relevance, and reputation, within our wider lives, when we choose holidays, cars, and where to live, so why not within work? To have access to these sense making communities, we need to engage in them, we need to help them to thrive, and that’s a role for Social Leadership.
Because we need greater Resilience in times of constant change: as our formal strength can make us weak in the face of asymmetric competition. It can make us brittle: strength held within infrastructure, system, process, and mechanisms of control, can achieve effect at scale, but be brittle in the face of unknown disruption. If we can draw upon our formal and social strength, we have a greater potential to flex, and to do so in new and creative ways.
Because we need greater Innovation to face these challenges: not innovation within a system, but around and outside of it. We need to innovate ourselves: to reorganise, to build new organisations that recognise this new reality, the Social Age.
Because we need greater Fairness: if we are to attract, retain, and gain benefit from, the greatest engagement and ideas, we need to earn that right. As change becomes constant, we must find ways to thrive at scale, to all hold the community safe, to ensure that nobody is disempowered or left behind in the flurry of change.
There are many reasons why we need Social Leadership, but the biggest question of all, is why we are even asking the question: it all starts with mindset. If we are comfortable, we may feel that we are safe, with the luxury of time on our side, whilst the truth is, we are in a great unknown ocean: new technologies, newly emergent sociology, new mechanisms of power and community. The only question that remains is why haven’t you started the journey?