Charlene Li says that the characteristics of what makes for a good leader doesn't change in the age of social media. She's right, if we look at the very core of leadership.
As Henry Kissinger put it:
"The most important role of a leader is to take on the burden of ambiguity inherent in difficult choices. That accomplished, his subordinates have criteria and can turn to implementation.“
Apart from his gender blunder – and admirable avoidance of flowery verbiage – Mr. Kissinger puts the finger on an often forgotten part of leadership – the making of decisions in situations of uncertainty. Done right, this creates certainty and more seemingly controllable circumstances.
But something has changed in terms of what makes for a good leader today. This crept up on us in the past 20 years – the CEO as Chief Entertainment Officer and/or Chief Engagement Officer.
My first CEOs were terrible presenters. And they clearly let it show that they had no interest in engaging people whom they considered non-essential folk – pretty much anyone who didn't plan to place a major order or propose a major deal, or useful underlings that got stuff done.
Today, woe betide the board that picks a CEO who can't relate to all stakeholders, or at least pretend to care. Seriously, CEO's have become more communications-aware. They act on the recognition that stakeholder issues quickly can become consumer issues and escalate to shareholder issues. And they see that this pesky “non-essential" person who pops up to ask questions at the shareholder meeting can be the butterfly that sets off a hurricane.
It is entirely possible that this change in the make-up of a CEO is the reason that social media is being embraced by corporations today. I'm afraid, though, that the embrace is partly one of desperation – as CCO's are chasing stakeholders in a world of diminishing reach through traditional PR means and mainstream communications channels.
The reason social media works for companies is that they allow many touch points. But we need to use them carefully. No push. Signal openness and continue any dialogue with maximum transparency. Etc. But, as the BP case showed us – the attitude has to be right independent of the media used.
Unless you know, as Charlene Li says in the video, what people think about your company, you will always sound tone deaf. And that adds another dimension to leadership – can you listen, and act with your heart on what you hear? That, too, would mean taking on the burden of ambiguity, but in a modern way.
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