It was great fun to work with a professional cartoonist. Bill Crooks has a remarkable gift for capturing, expressing or stimulating a thought, an idea or a feeling with a few quick strokes of a marker pen. We were leading a workshop that aimed to reveal and challenge the assumptions that participants bring to customer, client and beneficiary relationships. Bill quickly sketched a large person looking down at a small person through a magnifying glass. He then asked the group, simply, ‘What do you see?’
Participants looked down, thought, discussed then spoke up. ‘We – the organization – are the large person. We are scrutinising the client.’ The inference here was that the organization holds the power, the influence, the prerogative to evaluate and to choose. The wider group agreed. Bill responded provocatively, ‘And what if, unknown to us, the client is connected to unseen networks that dwarf the power, the influence, the prerogative of our organization? Who now is looking down on who?’
It was a sobering moment. Silence hit the room. How easily we make assumptions about ourselves, about others, based on what we see, know or think we understand. Imagine, for a moment, the leader who believes that he or she holds far greater power and influence than individual front-line staff. Hold that thought. And now: think of front-line staff who are connected by social media to key networks and influencers in the organisation’s wider arena. Who now is looking down on who?
We are talking here about the dramatic power of re-framing. As we change the metaphorical frame through which we view a person or situation, different pictures, perspectives, opportunities and challenges can emerge, change colour/shape or come into sharper focus. Shift the frame, shift what appears, how it feels and what options become available to us and to our clients. What have been your best experiences of reframing or achieving a radical paradigm shift? How did you do it?
Hashtag leadership. What’s going on in the social media world and what could it mean for leaders and organisations? In a nutshell, it’s simple and complex, clear and confusing. If you need structure and control to feel safe and secure, have tissues and paracetamol ready. Think rollercoaster – but on tracks that keep changing, shifting, evolving. The ride is far from certain and so is the destination.
Yet it can be so exciting! Social media like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have made networking possible between people, professions, sectors, countries and continents that would have been unimaginable just 10 years ago. It’s self-organising, self-selecting, unpredictable and emergent. At heart: ‘Great conversations with interesting people about stuff that matters.’ (Euan Semple, 2016).
This all means that ideas can be accelerated and amplified at incredible speed with all the potential and risk that carries (Steve Hearsum, 2016). We can learn, share information and ideas and thereby increase our resourcefulness faster than ever before. We’re also responsible for how we exercise wise leadership, what voices and messages we amplify or not and how we self- and peer-moderate.
And, as leaders, we have never felt so exposed. It’s a double-edged sword: exposed in the sense of accountable in the public domain along with unprecedented opportunity to influence ideas, culture and behaviour. It shapes the focus of leadership in organisations too from positional to distributed, from control to trust: noticing who exerts most influence and how to work creatively with them.
What have been your experiences of social media in leadership and organisations? What have you encountered, or tried, and how? What have been the pros and cons? I’d love to hear more!
Nick is a coach, trainer and OD consultant.