10 Reasons for Social Leadership

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– By  Julian Stodd –

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 complement to formal aspects of power.

Why Social Leadership? Here are 10 reasons:

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 its 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 is only with Social Authority and leadership that we can create the conditions for this to occur.

2. For Agility

Agile organisations solve problems today but retain an ability to solve them differently tomorrow. It is 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 cannot 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 community 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 once we have it, engagement is easier. Trust can never be taken for granted: as hard as it is to earn it, it is easy to lose. Social Leaders gain their power from Reputation, earned within community: it is 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 is 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 its 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 have shared recently is the difference between “Constrained” and “Dynamic” organisations. Constrained ones are willing, but fundamentally unable to relinquish control. They seek to maintain control of stories and impose their will upon a 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.

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 10 aspects of Social Leadership, 10 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. The Social Leadership Handbook, by Julian Stodd, is available now: https://seasaltlearning. com/social-leadership-handbook-second-edition/

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