This was the loud and clear message from Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group and bestselling coauthor of Groundswell, the keynote speaker at the PRSA International Conference.
Her latest book “Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead” was at the heart of her keynote comments.
Giving up control is uncomfortable for organizational leaders because the outcome seems uncertain and organizational leaders have been sensitized to more controlled outcomes. Li’s first example was a now well-known news story about Dell laptops catching on fire. The company bravely chose to acknowledge the story and include a popular photo of an exploding laptop in its response strategy. Li asked the audience if, (four years later) “Would your organization have the leadership and fortitude to acknowledge something as serious as a product default in such a public way?”
Li believes that strategy, leadership and preparedness are the keys for leaders to give up control but still be in command. She offered four ways leaders can do this:
1. Discipline is the key to success. Programs to develop open leadership cannot happen on an ad hoc basis. It must become part of the business process.
2. Create a culture of sharing. It’s not just about particular social media tools or using a specific technology or service, it’s about learning to share – inside and outside – your organization.
3. Ask the right questions about value. Using a quote from John Hayes at American Express, she highlighted that we often undervalue what we cannot measure but overvalue what we can.
4. Prepare for Failure. No relationships are perfect, so Li suggests using the Google mantra “Fail fast, fail smart.”
“Open Leadership” was given to early registrants of the PRSA International Conference. The book is filled with case studies of organizations of all sizes and their journeys to embrace a more open culture. Beyond the case studies, Li’s book features models, assessment tools and metrics that add meat to the message and allow organizations to have action plans for openness. Even better, Li offers a robust companion website with assessment tools and downloads which organizations can utilize to benchmark their starting points against other organizations.
In an environment where businesses are struggling to understand openness and the concept of sharing, Li offers a blueprint that even the most resistant of organizations could find useful.