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Effective Leadership By Mick Ukleja

Open Leadership – Is There An Upside To Giving Up Control?Mick Ukleja

June 4th, 2013 - I met Charlene Li in Chicago at the American Society for Trainers and Developers conference last year. She is the co-author of Groundswell. Her new book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, continues on the same theme. It’s about changing the power relationships between leaders and the people that follow them. Businesses are used to having some distance between themselves and their customers, partners and even employees. But ignoring them or pretending they do not exist is no longer an option. According to Li, this is why some companies are reluctant to embrace social technology. There is a sense that they will no longer be in control.

An example of this was Dell Computer in 2005. They were facing what was labeled, Dell Hell. Bloggers were complaining about Dell’s service. This had never been done before and Dell didn’t know what to do with it. Rather than run and be chased, they choose to walk toward the barking dogs. They developed their own blog and invited open communication. They developed a fresh new invigorating relationship, not only with bloggers, but also with their customers. They went from being one of the most closed companies to being a poster child for openness.

Sound easy? Maybe not. Being closed is easy. Just say no to everything! But if you are open, then you must ask, “Open to what?,” “Open to whom?” or “How will you be open?” This will take some thought and planning. It needs to be a part of your strategic thinking.

It’s one thing to jump on the mantra bandwagon and say, “be open, authentic, transparent.” But in reality organizations push back because organizations are based on the foundation of control. That’s why we organize, right?

Charlene talks about the Sandbox Covenant. That is the safe place where everyone can play, and you must define it for your organization. How much openness can your organization tolerate? It’s inside those walls that you are able to engage with people openly and freely. Don’t go outside those walls. Over time the walls will be expanded appropriately. If you see a need for your organization to be open, you must be intentional and put in a plan that will get you there over time. Expand slowly, and at a pace that challenges without crushing. This is true for nonprofits, churches and even schools.

The new world is demanding openness. Blogging, Twittering and Facebooking are the norm. New skills must be learned and mastered in order to be effective. One of Li’s charts show how traditional leaders differ from open leaders. There are always limits, but they are a catalyst in creating openness in an organization, both profit and nonprofit.

There is tension an organization – or individual – can feel between the two poles of openness and order. Pretending the tension does not exist is not an option. And I’m not talking about being more transparent or authentic, and – a favorite – being “real.” These are by products of being open. The real question is how much will YOU let go? How open will YOUR organization be in the face of the new technologies?

The new culture of sharing is the new normal. There are more people online. There is the widespread use of social sites. Sharing is a part of the DNA of human behavior. And with each wave of new technology sharing gets faster, cheaper and easier. It’s not a matter of saying goodbye to control. It’s a matter of making sure that your need for control is in sync with an ever-expanding culture of sharing.

(Mick Ukleja is a consultant, author, coach, keynote speaker and president of LeadershipTraq, a leadership consulting firm. His clients have included Fortune 500 corporations and non-profit organizations. Check his weekly blog at www.leadershiptraq.com.)