Here are 10 suggestions to help leaders in this new social media world:
1. Get social. If you haven't already, get a smartphone, get on FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn, start tweeting, blogging and IM-ing. Learn about wikispaces and web 3.0 (yeah, that's already happening). Though the most popular social media tools are really intuitive to use and have a short learning curve, don't be fooled: shifting a corporate culture into using them takes quite a bit of time an effort, according to consultant Grady McGonagill, whose recent whitepaper details the best practices in leadership.
2. Shift your paradigms about how work happens, about what relationships are and about the many parallel universes of relationships there are. Equally as important: shift your paradigms about what leadership is as well. Leadership must become fast, fluid and flexible enough to be passed from one to the other around the network. Imagine, for example, stopping at mid-point in a public presentation for a tweet break to allow the audience to check in with others for their thoughts and questions.
3. Shift the direction of information flow from top-down to bottom-up. In the wired world of the iGeneration, leaders don't direct--they serve. This is not pure "hive mentality"--the random and spontaneous generation of thought movement. Leaders must provide a focus, a question or a goal and then allow for the on-going flow of information.
4. Resource it. Get the tools, find out what is most needed and wanted and get it in the budget. The important thing is getting the right tools--too many tools can not only clog the system but result in failure to use them at all. But don't fall into the trap of thinking of just devices. Resources include setting up the human infrastructure as well, says Naava Frank, rresident of Knowledge Communities.
5. Eliminate walls and barriers to free flowing information. Granted, companies have confidential trade secrets, but if companies can figure out how to keep them under wraps while including customers in the ideation process, they can figure out how to open up the channels without giving away the store. The key is building mutual trust. Branding is different in wikispace: once you open the doors, all the company warts are visible.
6. Participate at some (any) level. Listen in and sit down with your newest and youngest employees and ask them how they suggest using these resources. But most importantly, decide how you want to "show up" and be strategic about when to step in.
7. Turn it over to "them." That's right--put them in charge, let go, and turn to figuring out what recognition and reward systems the company can employ to encourage and promote it. However, this does not mean that you let go of leading the process--even Wikipedia has an organization and a leader at its helm.
8. Find new ways to engage the rank and file employees in the process of informing, information flow and information capture. Find out what the motivators are in this new realm (they are changing). It should not be the leader's nor the organization's goal to engage or harness the entire social network (that is too big and far too time-consuming), just the part that is helpful in advancing.
9. Don't get tunnel vision on just information. The networked employee is more than an information conduit; she is a bundle of relationships, conversations and ideas yet to happen. The best advice is "Handle with care," says Frank, "these systems are fragile."
10. Set it on the path of building exponential growth. A leader's job is keeping the vision alive and out in front. Create the position of community manager to make certain that your networking employees have purpose and focus. And then you can start to measure your organization's results in terms of operational performance, speed and capacity.
Welcome to the digital world of the web-powered iGeneration. It is a culture that is self-empowered and has no sense of boundaries, and that actually expects and demands free access to all information and sources.
For your organization it can be a Brave New World, or Lord of the Flies. Much of that depends on how one leads. Leading a web-based, socially-networked organization requires not only self-confidence, but an ability to facilitate instead of force, and co-create instead of simply controlling things that happen.
Yes, welcome to this braver newer world! One wonders if Lao Tzu could have imagined this when he wrote some 2300 years ago, "The greatest leader is the one of whom the people say, 'We did it ourselves.'"
By Kris Girrell is senior partner with Camden Consulting Group.