More than 75 million people — and counting — around the world have viewed “KONY 2012,” the video about the horrific treatment of children in Africa.
Social networks provide leadership across the world, raising global awareness. You might say, “That’s great, but what does this have to do with leading our businesses?” Everything. Social networks are our new world, and we need to know how they impact on our businesses and our approach to leadership.
Whether it was the Occupy movement or the Arab Spring, You Tube, Facebook or Twitter, social networks and their causes have become more than a way of connecting — a new way to lead, mobilize and engage people, and disclose information. We’ve moved from workspace to cyberspace. Are we also evolving to the next stage of leadership?
Perhaps, 60 years ago, we led through hierarchy, the industrial model. The 1980s gave way to the expert model; leaders were heroes who used hub-and-spoke leadership. At the turn of the century, the knowledge economy found us using greater collaboration. With the dawn of social networking, we’re in a new age of leadership. What may be emerging is a “cyber model” of leadership — distributed, often anonymous and committed. Anyone can lead using the Internet, even in the workplace.
What does this mean for business leaders?
Our social identity is different: In the past, our identity was often tied up in a job title, a company or our expertise. The new social identity is found in relationships with like-minded people around the globe, defined by shared interests and concerns. Over the years, power has shifted from positions to expertise to knowledge, and now to connectedness in cyberspace.
Where we find meaning: Meaning may no longer be found in doing a good job or in working hard or in rising up the ladder. Meaning is increasingly being found in cyber communities focused on issues of common concern. Emotional loyalties may be conflicted. We’ll still work hard and do a good job, but our work-life is now competing with our cyber-life.
New forms of commitment: Our commitments are different. Our primary commitment may be to social networks and to their meaning. It may also compete with the time loyalties I have to have to where I get my paycheck.
Transparency is required: Organizations are now completely visible, as if leaders were sitting on the other side of a one-way mirror. Records can be hacked. Lawsuits can be filed. Leadership credibility can be challenged. So transparency, honesty and integrity in our dealings becomes critically important to our effectiveness.
Ownership of work is central: People take care of what they own. If they own their work, work processes, and workspace, they will take care of it. This means leadership needs to become more collaborative, engaged, and interdependent in style. The best decisions are made by the whole, not the one or the few.
New leadership is required for the cyber-age of social networks. Conversely, social networks are becoming a new way of leading. We may not be ready for it yet. But it’s at our doorstep. If we begin to act now, proactively, we can learn from social networks about how our leadership cultures must now evolve.
Dr. Edward Marshall is a senior partner for organizational leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 919-265-9616.