Open Leadership, by Charlene LiWell, it’s summertime and for many, a time of the year to kick back and relax beachside, poolside, BBQ-side or anyside as long as it ain’t in the office! It’s also a time of the year where we tend to catch up on our reading, whether it’s fiction (Hunger Games, anyone? Or perhaps Fifty Shades of Grey?) or a good management book to think back and reflect on business issues while our minds are rested… or not, looking after toddlers and kids running around, hurting themselves or throwing burning marshmallows at each other – don’t laugh, I speak from experience here! :-)

On a more serious note, I wanted to share my most recent read which is a profound, thought-provoking book, Open Leadership by Charlene Li, who is also the coauthor of Groundswell and Founder of Altimeter Group, an advisory group that includes social media experts such as Jeremiah Owyang and Brian Solis. Whether you work in a small business or a large multinational, whether you are a marketing consultant or involved in social media, and whether you are just beginning your career or are a C-suite executive, this book is a must-read. Truth be told, though, it’s a must-read specially if you are C-suite or decision-making executive.


As the book is aptly titled, it’s about two essential factors that are changing how business is conducted nowadays: openness and leadership. As the author specifies, being open is not a mantra or philosophy, and it is not about total transparency and complete openness – companies are still entitled not to disclose competitive information, nor should all information always be made available. As for leadership, Charlene Li summarizes it beautifully in the introduction:

No matter how compelling a technology or potential relationship might be, in the face of an immovable mass called company culture, and without the right organization and leadership in place, any digital strategy will fail (Open Leadership, page xiii)

The journey to greater openness for most companies will not be an easy one, and the very first step is to acknowledge the fact that companies and brands need to give up control. This stems from the fact that with the advent of social technologies, there has been a fundamental shift in power, where individuals now have greater voice, greater reach and overall greater impact due to three identified trends:

  • There are more people online than ever
  • The widespread use of social sites
  • The rise of sharing

This leads the author to define the new rules of open leadership, which she defines as:

Having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.

Through a series of examples, from Obama’s social campaigns to how Red Cross used social media for outreach purposes, the author backs up the theory with real-life examples. She also gives useful and practical tools, such as an Openness Audit, in Chapter Two, to see where your organization stands according to various key openness elements. This is a fundamental step before crafting on an openness strategy within your company. Click here to download the Openness Audit

Making The Case For Open Leadership

In order to foster new, more meaningful relationships with customers, employees and vendors alike, companies thus need abide by new rules that the author details as follows:
  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
With these rules in mind, organizations now need to set objectives and determine to which extent they want and need to be open – this will vary per industry, per company and there are no right or wrong answer so long as the audit is done in full transparency.
Chapter 4 does a stellar job of demonstrating how it is, indeed, possible to calculate ROI from social media activities, while other chapters delve into what it takes to show open leadership, defining what transparency andauthenticity along the way, two terms all-too often misused in this day and age.
There were various gems throughout the book, but I would highlight these particular excerpts, in particular since they echo opinions I have voiced in the past and found refreshing coming from an expert in the field.
Marketing and communications are being transformed – it’s no longer about creating and delivering messages, but about the open expression of customer and employee concerns and hope amplified through these new dialogs and relationships. (Open Leadership, Chapter 3, page 64)
Open leadership requires that you create structure, process, and discipline around openness when there is none, so that people know what to expect and how to behave in a new open environment. (Open Leadership, Chapter 5, page 107)
Shared goals require trust. Trust requires behavior. And guess what technology does? It exposes behavior. (Ron Ricci, VP of corporate positioning, Cisco Systems, quoted in Chapter 8, page 198)
Of course, summarizing such a book in a single blog post can hardly do it justice. Fortunately, Charlene Li has provided additional resources where one can download resources mentioned in the book that make the whole reading experience that much more fruitful. Click here for additional resources
This way, once you’re done scraping the sand off the book cover and removing sunscreen stains off your beach towels, you can head back to the office with a few “to-do” on your list.
Cheers and hope you are enjoying your summer!