JD Lasica's Reviews > Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead

Open Leadership by Charlene Li
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's review
Sep 18, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: recommended
Read in May, 2010

e first thing to under­stand about Char­lene Li’s smart new book “Open Lead­er­ship” is that this is not a call to arms for top man­age­ment to deploy a loosey-goosey, feel-good strat­egy of giv­ing up com­plete con­trol of your man­age­ment struc­ture. Nor is it yet another busi­ness book about effec­tive cor­po­rate lead­er­ship techniques.

Instead, Open Lead­er­ship: How Social Tech­nol­ogy Can Trans­form the Way You Lead is about how to rein­vent com­pa­nies (as they must be) for the age of social media. It’s filled with smart, prac­ti­cal strate­gic advice — not only for com­pany CEOs but for mid­dle man­agers, social mar­keters and change-makers at all lev­els of an orga­ni­za­tion — about how to set out a vision, how to over­come inter­nal bar­ri­ers and how to nav­i­gate a brand through these tur­bu­lent waters.

Like “Groundswell” before it, “Open Lead­er­ship” (336 pages) brims with anec­dotes and real-word exam­ples of how com­pa­nies are mak­ing the tran­si­tion to the con­ver­sa­tional era. (The pub­li­ca­tion date is May 24; Char­lene gave me an advance copy of the book at SxSW.)

Char­lene lays out her premise early on: That busi­nesses require its exec­u­tives to adopt an “open lead­er­ship” style of man­age­ment in place of the command-and-control par­a­digm in place at most large com­pa­nies. “Face it — you’re not in con­trol and prob­a­bly never really were,” she writes. “You need to let go of the need to be in con­trol.” As she explains, you aren’t really giv­ing up con­trol — “you are shift­ing it to some­one else that you have con­fi­dence in.”

In other words, open­ness (and let­ting go) is just the first step in Open Lead­er­ship. But it needs to be matched by an equal com­mit­ment to pro­vide a struc­tured, inte­grated frame­work in which an open­ness strat­egy can succeed.

The book begins with the telling exam­ple of United Air­lines’ bone­headed reac­tion to a cus­tomers’ com­plaint about its bag­gage han­dlers dam­ag­ing his gui­tar. (I recently inter­viewed musi­cian Dave Car­roll about it and will post it here soon.) The result­ing neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity spawned by Dave’s United Breaks Gui­tars series on YouTube surely cost the air­line mil­lions and a dam­aged rep­u­ta­tion that has not yet been repaired.

While those of us who run social media agen­cies will no doubt be famil­iar with much of the ter­rain Char­lene cov­ers through­out — Dell’s IdeaS­t­orm, Best Buy, Star­bucks, Com­cast, Motrin Moms — every reader should come away with at least a hand­ful of sto­ries that pro­vide tan­gi­ble evi­dence of the trans­for­ma­tive effects of social media and open lead­er­ship across depart­ments — cus­tomer sup­port, prod­uct devel­op­ment, mar­ket­ing, PR, HR — and across sectors.

Char­lene gets down in the weeds in the sec­tion map­ping out “New met­rics for new rela­tion­ships,” includ­ing mea­sure­ments on cal­cu­lat­ing “the New Cus­tomer Life­time Value,” which goes well beyond look­ing at just the ROI of a cam­paign. She cau­tions against “dash­board delir­ium” syn­drome, where com­pa­nies mea­sure KPIs (key per­for­mance indi­ca­tors) just because they can.

The book is filled with such smart, no-nonsense action­able insights. So if your com­pany is still not very clue­ful about the social media revolution’s effects on busi­ness, buy a copy for your boss.

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