Charlene Li is the founder and CEO of Altimeter Group, and the author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller Open Leadership, and co-author of the critically acclaimed book Groundswell. She is a sought-after speaker and adviser to many Fortune 500 companies.
I invited Charlene to Marketing Smarts to discuss her new book The Engaged Leader.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:
Executives should use social media, but many simply don't know how (03:27): "When I work with leaders today, they are in some way or another responsible for leading some sort of digital initiative in their organization. Oftentimes, the organization is using digital channels to reach out to customers, or their employees are starting to use internal collaboration tools. They themselves may be highly supportive of this, but when it comes to their personal use of these tools, they're at a loss. They don't know how to engage, what to say, and they're befuddled by the technology. They see a big wall that comes in front of them. And there's a disconnect between they know they should be out there and how do they personally actually do this. So where to begin? I wrote the book for them, to give them a pathway to begin that journey and to continue to grow in their leadership."
Understand that engaging on social media directly contradicts what leaders have historically been taught about maintaining a professional distance from employees (04:24): "I do see a great reluctance for [executives and leaders to use social media], and I think the major reason is that leaders, from the beginning of their careers, have been taught not to share, not to be out there. And for them to lower that wall, to let their authentic selves come through can be very disconcerting, because it does mean that you lower the power distance. It means you have to be a bit more vulnerable, be able to talk about the things that go wrong in a way that they feel very exposed. Because they never know if something that they put out there—even internally—might end up on the front page of the New York Times, so there's a lot of fear and concern, and a lack of trust in the people they want to engage with."
To get executives on social networks, show them the value (05:15): "If you put it from a point of view of just using these technologies, they'll never use it, but, if you can, cast it in the frame of one of their top business objectives. They typically have between three and five objectives that are really important to them. If you can show them how using these tools can help them achieve these objectives, then they will look twice, and again and again, and give it a try. As long as you can connect it to that, then they say 'okay, maybe it is worth the time, the effort, the risk of actually using these tools.'"
Leaders can use social media to improve employee engagement (05:53): "Gallup came out with a report last year that showed 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. So leaders are looking at the internal engagement as a way to get people actively engaged with a purpose in the mission—the 'why' behind 'why come in to work.' And from there, they can put more of themselves psychically into the jobs that they do. So that's really important to the quality and the longevity of that relationship with employees. Oftentimes, people will follow leaders, but the reason that they follow them is that personal connection to the mission and to that leader themselves. That is born from the day-to-day engagement and transactions that you have. What happens with digital, is it allows you to do this at scale. I was speaking to a leader and he pushed back by saying 'the best kind of engagement is when I walk around, and I shake people's hands and...I look into their eyes and we connect.' and I said to him 'you have 15,000 employees. There's no way you can get around to all of them in a physical way, but you actually have a shot of doing that if you start engaging with them through these digital tools.' I call it 'engagement by proxy.' If [employees] see you engaging in a very collaborative, authentic way with [another] employee, they begin to hope that this is a possibility for them, even though they may not directly engage with you."
Charlene and I talked about much more, including how executives can achieve real business goals through social engagement and how social engagement can help your company identify "leaders without titles," so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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Show opener music credit: Noam Weinstein.
Charlene Li, founder and CEO of Altimeter Group, and author of five books, including The Engaged Leader, Open Leadership, and Groundswell (co-written with Josh Bernoff). Follow Charlene on Twitter, or catch up with her on CharleneLi.com.