Review of Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead

April 30, 2010

When I found that Charlene Li of The Altimeter Group had written a new book about leadership and social technology, I contacted her and asked for an early review copy. She responded personally and promptly and I’m glad to say that after reading “Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead,” I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Charlene defines open leadership as “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals” (p. 14).  Leaders accomplish this by having an open mind-set – the ability to let go of control “at the right time, in the right place, and in the right amount.” (p. 8). And she does not pull her punches, which I love:

The first step is recognizing that you are not in control – your customers, employees, and partners are. If you are among the many executives who long for the “good ol’ days” when rules and roles were clear, indulge yourself in that kind of thinking for just a few more minutes – then it’s time to get to work. This is a fad that will not fade, but will only grow stronger, with or without you. (p.8)

Open leadership is about new relationships, and new relationships need new guidelines. Charlene suggests the following:

1. Respect that your customers and employees have power.

2. Share constantly to build trust.

3. Nurture curiosity and humility.

4. Hold openness accountable.

5. Forgive failure.

You can see that this is contemporary leadership philosophy, and Charlene readily admits that and acknowledges the sources of her principles. What is new here is how Charlene shows how to accomplish open leadership with the use of new and evolving social technologies like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

I wish I had written this book. I believe strongly that leaders and companies that make social media only about marketing are missing a HUGE opportunity to to radically transform their entire value chain. But I am glad that Charlene wrote it, because through her diagnostic exercises, checklists, rich examples, and systematic approach to open leadership, any leader with an open mindset can follow her advice and get results.

There is nothing new under the sun about how to achieve sustainable competitive advantage. You have to be able to learn faster than your competitors and embed this knowledge in new products, services, and operational processes that create something remarkable about what you do and how you do it. What is new are the powerful social technologies available today for leaders to listen, respond, and learn faster and more effectively than any time in our lives.

I firmly believe that if you ignore open leadership, the best you will ever be able to achieve is competitive parity. The land of excellence and growth belongs to companies that leverage these new social technologies to build thriving, enduring community with their employees, customers, and suppliers.

Charlene’s book will be available on May 24, 2010. I would encourage you to get a copy, read it, and begin applying her advice in your business ASAP.

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Comments (11)

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  1. Charlene Li says:

    Brett- thanks very much for the review. I love your point that leader who don’t embrace being open will be relegated to “competitive parity”.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Charlene! Your book is very unique. Thanks for getting me an early copy! Bret

  2. Hi Bret

    Thanks for reviewing this book – it fits with what has been frustrating me in relation to my organisation’s implementation of web2.0 tools. My role is both to create the environment for the tools and this means untangling the leadership and cultural element.

    The real issue for me both as a leader and aa a leadership developer is how to balance the real need to manage risks and control needs with the vast opportunities available through web2.0.

    I’m looking forward to reading Charlene’s book.


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Amanda! Let me know if you like the book when you get it. Charlene gives some good guidelines on how much control to give up an how. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Thanks! Bret

  3. Nicole says:

    Those are five important points that I think every manager or business owner should have pasted on their computer screen, or placed on their desk somewhere. I believe those are what sets leaders apart from the pack and I would love to see more managers adapt that school of thought.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Concur, Nicole. But it has to be more than notes on a wall to work. Has to be burned in the brain for it to guide behavior. No change of mind, no change of behavior. Thanks! Bret

  4. Nicole says:

    This coincides with the ACT article you just had us read. Practice what you preach. Nice post and great article.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    A must, but easier said than done. Painful many times to practice what we preach. Good pain 🙂 Thanks! Bret

  5. Hi Bret,

    You might be interested to read the interesting and detailed comment that Charlene Li posted today in response to my long blog post on ‘Open Leadership + Enterprise 2.0: the practices that can make them real’.

    The post and comments are here:

    Matthew Mezey
    (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals)

  6. Elio Vera says:

    Dear Bret, I am very interested in the view of Marlene Li, but I wonder if, now, almost 4 years later, with the dramatic development of Social Networks, her views are still valid or if it would be useful an update them on the basis of the new experiencies and the Economica Crisis that makes the Leaders more and more anxious and looking for quick decisions? Thank you very much.
    Elio, from Milan, Italy

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Elio. It’s true the technology is now much more familiar than 4 years ago, but I think the leadership implications are still being explored. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Bret