E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Enterprise 2.0 – Towards Embracing a New Emerging Kind of Leadership

Gran Canaria - Degollada De Las YeguasOne of the toughest challenges that any business faces when embracing Social Computing within the enterprise is how, time and time again, social software tools keep challenging themselves the already existing status quo of the corporate world. Specially, within the traditional, hierarchical and structured leadership teams going all the way to the top! But is that threat real? Is that new wave of emerging leaders really threatening already existing organisational structures? Are their powerful networks overthrowing steadily those traditional and well established leadership teams? Does command-and-control still have a place in this new emerging working environment of Enterprise 2.0? Will both types of corporate leadership ever reconcile, learn from one another and start building the next generation of (business) leaders? Probably far too many questions, but here is a simple answer to them all: leadership 2.0 is here to stay, so we might as well embrace it!

I am not sure whether you may have read this Forbes article put together by my fellow IBM colleague, and good friend, Rawn Shah, under the title "Enterprise 2.0 Changes What Kind Of Leader You Need To Be", but he surely is hinting, and very nicely done, the path to follow for both traditional and emerging leaders (in the social networking spaces) to meet up half way through and instead of fighting against one another, trying to see who would survive further, start building stronger personal business relationships by collaborating, sharing their knowledge across and learning from one another about their own strengths. Tough challenge, I am sure you may be thinking, right? But, eventually, it’s not as bad as you think. Rather the opposite!

Like I said, Rawn hints, very nicely, a good bunch of insights on how both groups of leaders could come together into an explosive and rather energising mix that, if anything, will help set the stage and prepare the road for that next generation of leaders about to enter the workplace, if not inside already. And all of that with the use, of course, of communities, which, like I have been saying all along for a while now, are the major drivers of social software adoption within any business. Here is an interesting quote from Rawn’s article that pretty much nails it, in my opinion:

"As a traditional manager joining an online community, you should always identify and work with its emergent leaders. No matter how highly ranked you are within the overall organization, the community leader represents a trusted authority within the network. Challenging or overriding his or her authority disrupts the climate of openness and insinuates totalitarianism. You need to build trust and raise your digital eminence before you do anything like that, even though it may take time and work" [Emphasis mine]

I am sure after reading that paragraph you may be thinking that embracing this new kind of leadership is going to jeopardise whatever efforts traditional leaders may have been working with like command and control. But nothing further from the new reality; Rawn moves on and quotes Charlene Li and Jaime Punishill stating that it’s all about "Establishing command, not control". And I couldn’t have agreed more with that statement. Spot on!

But Rawn also hints what hierarchical, structured leaders need to do to start that exciting and thrilling new transformational journey to "become a truly connected leader":

"[…] you must embrace the virtues preferred in social environments: passionate, inspirational leadership, leading by motivating and setting an example, creating a vision, mentoring, asking the right questions and setting the right social conditions. Li advocates information-sharing activities that demonstrate such open leadership: explaining, updating, conversing, crowdsourcing and having open discussions" [Emphasis mine]

Thus as you would be able to see from the above quotes, embracing social computing within the enterprise has nothing to do with replacing anything, not even your current leaders; quite the opposite! It’s all about empowering them to begin their own transformation into merging successfully with that next generation of emerging leaders who have been around already for a little while participating in social networks and communities and eventually become even stronger leaders. It’s a partnership. It’s a commitment to learn from one another and become better at what they do already: lead by example.

It’s about learning from one another through a constant re-building and re-nurturing of personal business relationships by having open conversations where building trust is the common norm and the main rule. Trust amongst their peers, but also, of course, with their employees.

It’s about demonstrating you walk the talk, even with your current leadership team(s), in preparing your business for the knowledge economy of the 21st century, one where business work will get done around networks and communities; one where traditional teams and projects merge and disappear nicely into a fully networked, interconnected and globally distributed working environment. I realise you may be thinking that still is quite a challenge and perhaps you may be wondering how your business could tackle it, right?

Well, once again, Rawn shares a couple of examples of how it could work, providing some further insights on specific programmes that may be available out there. One of them, that I am incredibly proud of, is one that IBM itself has been running for almost a year now and which surely is enjoying a nice momentum at the moment. It’s a reverse mentoring programme by which some of IBM’s top leaders get paired with social computing advocates who will then coach them through a longer period of time on how to get the most out of social networking tools for business. So eventually, as Rawn mentions, "you build digital eminence while linking your existing and emerging leaders".

From there onwards, it’s through a series of open and engaging conversations between both parties, and under a rather specific business context, that business relationships will grow and mature enough to help merge both groups of leaders and eventually become a one larger, stronger, network that would not only be walking the talk, but at the same time it would be helping accelerate the wider adoption of social software tools within their own teams, as they will continuously demonstrate what that transformation process has been like. And that, folks, can only be a good thing!

Perhaps, at some other point in time, I may be able to explore further a good number of the social  business activities that such reverse mentoring programme is putting together, since I am sure plenty of folks out there would find it beneficial. Who knows… I may be able to get a couple of the leaders who I’m currently coaching at the moment to kick off their own personal blogs sharing what that experience has been like. Stay tuned!

Finally, to wrap up this article, the good news is that I am 100% positive IBM is not the only business embarked into such innovative and thought-provoking initiatives as that one, and I would love to hear from you, on the comments, about what your own company is doing to successfully merge both leadership teams, because somehow I think we all realise what the real impact would be of confronting both groups, don’t you think? It’s like why would you go for one or the other when you could have the best of both (colliding) worlds? It sounds like a natural path of evolution for those new leaders of the 21st century, don’t you think? It would be another matter though whether businesses, in general, are ready to help facilitate that switch… What do you think?

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