Recently, I read an article and book by Charlene Li, an expert on social media and former analyst and vice president at Forrester Research. In the book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, she states that greater openness in organizations is inevitable and is a consequence of the increasing use of social media.
As your customers and employees become more adept at using social and other emerging technologies, they will push you to be more open, urging you to let go in ways in which you may not be comfortable. Your natural inclination may be to fight this trend, to see it as a fad that you hope will fade and simply go away. It won’t. Not only is this trend inevitable, but it also is going to force you and your organization to be more open than you are today.
It’s evident that social media is breaking down barriers to communication and empowering citizens and employees to speak their minds freely. Broadcasting our opinions, views, and expressing our personality, is simple and easy on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. Li describes this new reality as a “period of fundamental social change akin to the rise of the automobile or the introduction of television.”
Her prescription for managing this new reality is “open leadership,” which means “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.”
What does this mean for the National Archives?
As we embrace social media technologies more and more, our work is changing. We’ve been increasing our understanding and use of social media, but now we need to build it into the fabric of the agency. In this new reality, managers and leaders need to understand the power and the limitations of using social media to communicate with employees and the public. Being innovative and agile allows us to respond to the changing environment and to learn new ways of accomplishing our mission at the National Archives.
I encourage each of you to think about this new vision of leadership. Charlene Li describes what’s needed:
Leadership requires a new approach, a new mind-set, and new skills. It isn’t enough to be a good communicator. You must be comfortable with sharing personal perspectives and feelings to develop closer relationships. Negative online comments can’t be avoided or ignored. Instead, you must come to embrace each openness-enabled encounter as an opportunity to learn. And it is not sufficient to just be humble. You need to seek out opportunities to be humbled each and every day – to be touched as much by the people who complain as by those who say “Thank you.”
Throughout this year, we’ve been seeking to strengthen the open government principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration at the National Archives as well as implementing our Open Government Plan.
Embracing open leadership as a new imperative at the National Archives will help us strengthen our commitment to open government. We will be more successful in promoting accountability of the government through access to information (transparency), harnessing the ideas and expertise of employees and the public (participation), as well as encouraging cooperation and partnerships with other institutions and the private sector (collaboration).
I’m currently reviewing recommendations for organizational changes to the National Archives from the Task Force on Agency Transformation. They were charged earlier this year to review and solicit input from employees on changes to align the National Archives to meet the challenges we will face within the next five years. Changes to our structure will be one step, but we will also need to embrace open leadership if we are to be successful in this new reality.
For More Information:
- Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead by Charlene Li, 2010
- “Being Open is the New Way to Lead” by Charlene Li, Associations Now, July 2010