February 21, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
The happenings in the Middle East say much about the power of social media technologies. They are revolutionizing the practice of leadership.
Followers need a simple cell phone to organize a groundswell in support or opposition to any leader, product, or cause. Huge crowds can be assembled with a simple text message and that powerful contemporary closer: “Pass this message on.”
Strangers with shared interests or common beliefs forge virtual communities and become cyber allies through vehicles like Facebook and Twitter. Building solidarity, commitment, and shared purpose no longer require face-to-face meetings – or even residency in the same nation or on the same continent.
A twitter revolution or a smart mob a la Howard Rheingold is no novelty. Social media technologies created the conditions to topple a controlling, military-backed, thirty year regime in a seemingly stable country like Egypt; and they continue to send aftershocks through a host of other nations. They will continue to do so.
What does all this mean for contemporary leadership? What is important to remember?
1. Leadership is vital. At its core, leading is a social process rooted in relationship, collaboration, and mutual interest. Advances in technology and the ease of electronic communications and social networking provide additional tools for building the networks of relationship and shared purpose needed for success.
At the same time, they also expand the need for leadership. We have mind-boggling capabilities at our finger-tips to forge global alliances, further causes, and foster organizational agendas – to create, in the language of super-blogger Seth Godin, tribes of ten or ten million who care passionately about the same things that we do. All these new groups need direction, cohesion, and contribution. They need leadership from people like you or me.
2. Leaders know and respect their followers. Perhaps there were times in history when leaders could ignore the needs and collective power of their followers. Those have passed. Then President Mubarak, sitting in his palace telling world leaders that the disturbances in Egypt will pass, is a symbol of a leader in denial and out of touch. Leaders know their followers well. Social technologies can help them in this.
3. Leaders listen to, learn from, use, and manage the social groundswell. Contemporary leaders need to take their heads out of the sand about social media technologies. They are powerful and here to stay. When United States senators twitter their constituencies, and the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies talk to their constituents through Facebook, something about leading has definitely changed.
Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff provide a wealth of strategies for working the groundswell,using it to inform and energize your leadership and organization, and turning the power of social media to your advantage. I’ve learned a lot from their book, appropriately titled Groundswell.