Open Leadership – How social technology can transform the way you lead (Charlene Li, 2010)

I was fortunate to get an early copy “Open Leadership – How Social Technology can transform the way you lead”, the latest book of Charlene Li (co-author of the best seller Groundswell) that combines different areas that interest me:  (1) the social media revolution, (2) leadership, and (3) corporate strategy.

In this article I will provide an overview of the book, and highlight some interesting parts and give you an idea about the structure of the book and the way it is written. On the other hand I won’t give away all the interesting details, so you need to do some reading yourself.


Open Leadership explains how leaders can use new social and collaborative technologies to improve efficiency, communication and decision-making for both themselves and their organizations. I show step-by-step how to bring the rigor of this new openness to relationships both inside and outside of the organization, with supporting case studies and examples from many different companies, industries and countries.”

The book Open Leadership consists of three parts that will be thoroughly discussed in the upcoming sections of the article.

  • Part I:  The upside of giving up control;
  • Part II:  Crafting your open strategy;
  • Part III:  Open leadership: Redefining relationships

Part I:  The upside of giving up control

The first part of the book Open Leadership starts with how technology has enabled individuals to broadcast their views to the global audience.

Not only are there more and more people online, also the costs of communication have dropped dramatically. Today almost everyone can have an own website or blog at limited costs, and a lot of people are actively building value networks through social (media) websites.

For corporate leaders, who are normally using causal logic instead of more effectual logic, this can result in a huge dilemma. In order to solve this dilemma, open leadership needs to be defined as well as the rules of open leadership.

“Open leadership is defined as having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals” (Li, 2010, p. 14)

In order to better understand open leadership, you first need to define the first term “open / openness”. Charline Li uses ten elements, in two “categories”  information sharing and open decision making, to define the term openness. In this picture above you can see an overview of the ten elements of openness, to get an idea of the dimensions of this construct.

The openess audit

Charlene Li, furthermore has developed an openness audit, based on the described ten elements above. The openness audit is “a diagnostic tool to understand where the organization is open and where not” (Li, 2010,p. 44) The openness audit is the starting point to think about an open strategy and indirect the transformation process to lead in an open way.

Part II:  Crafting your open strategy

The second part of the book Open Leadership helps you to systematically develop an open strategy, that fits the current situation of your company. Results of Charlene Li’s work show that there are “four underlying objectives integrated into almost every successful strategic plan.” (Li, 2010, p. 53).

The four open driven objectives are shown on the right side of the picture above, and consist of (1) learn, (2) dialog, (3) support, and (4) innovate. In this context it was interesting to read about the new nature of engagement and the use of the engagement pyramid.

The main question is how to deeply integrate the open strategy into the overall corporate strategy, while asking the question “how open does the company need to be ?” The left side of the picture above provides a step-by-step action plan to create your open strategy.

The next step is to better understand the benefits of being open and measure these benefits. There are not only “multiple ways to look at the benefits of openness” (Li, 2010, 100) but there are also no prescribed set of parameters to measure these benefits of openness. Therefore you need to create your own performance indicators and keep in mind why your are using these specific metrics. The picture above shows the step-by-step action plan to calculate the benefits of openness.

An interesting part is the use of (sandbox) covenants to structure the construct of openness. In this area you need to think of a set of common-agreed-on guidelines, which can be used to structure openness and set the boundaries of the sandbox.

Covenants are promises that people make with each other, which differ from traditional corporate policies and procedures that dictate how things will operate within organizations” (Li, 2010, p. 109)

One of the interesting chapters is chapter 6 that provides you tools to orchestrate the open strategy. The focus here is really on the organizational level of crafting your open strategy: (1) create a social-graphics profile, (2) identify key work-flows, (3) identify key stakeholders, (4) chose organizational models for openness and (5) assign roles an responsibilities.

Just like Lee Odden, Editor of the TopRank, Online Marketing Blog, this is absolutely one of my favorite chapters of the Open Leadership book. Because I see this as one of the key chapters I wont spoil the fun and give away all the details ! 🙂

Part III:  Open leadership: Redefining relationships

The third part of the book Open Leadership focuses on the leadership part. The picture above provides an overview of the four open leadership archetypes and the dimensions to identify an open leader.

The open leadership audit

Charlene Li included an open leadership audit, which is a self-assessment of the open leadership mindset to provides insights in- and helps you to understand where- your biases lie.  The scores of the open leadership audit are integrated with the four quadrants of the open leadership archetypes above.  Just like the openness audit it is a starting point on the individual level to (further) develop your open leadership skills.

Chapter 8 titled “Nurturing open leadership”, is a highly interesting chapter in my personal view of the book. It discusses concepts like authenticity, transparency and how you can support open leadership with technology. Following mind-sets and skills are essential for open leadership:

  1. Passion for the vision;
  2. Focus on relationships;
  3. “Hacker” mentality;

Furthermore you can read how a company can lead its open leaders or how open leaders can be trained.

The open leadership skills assessment test

The open leadership skills assessment test helps to find out how well developed your open leadership skills are: overall leadership capabilities and using social technology as a tool to extend your open leadership throughout the organization and marketplace.

The last chapters of the third part of the book Open Leadership focuses (1) on the preparation of a failure plan, because at some point an open leader can fail when it comes to using social technologies, and (2) how openness transforms organizations, with help of some striking real-life examples.

Overall thoughts and conclusions

Recently I have published two articles that provide statistics about social networks and their growing importance:

  1. A SlideShare presentation ”What the f**k is social media now ?” ;
  2. video introduction of the “Making the Social Connection” session with Tony Krijnen,  Daniel van Soest and Charlie Kindel @ DevDays 2010 !“;

In both articles I was impressed with the laws of the large numbers that power the trends and growing strategic importance of the use of social networks. Open Leadership helps you first to understand this social revolution, while second it provides helpful systematic tools and insights to manage openness and the use of social technology.

The large number of real-life examples (successes and failures) of Fortune 500 companies, my favorite company Microsoft included, help to better understand and memorize the theory. The action plan in almost every chapter provides great summary and helps to operationalize the transformation to open leadership (individually and on a corporate level) !

Open Leadership is a must-read book for the modern professional involved in social technology, corporate strategy, leadership, organizational change, innovation. Buy Open Leadership directly from the website (in combination with the book Groundswell), or read the introduction chapter on SlideShare!

Finally I would like to thank Charlene Li for the opportunity to work through the advanced reading copy of the amazing Open Leadership book !

About Charlene Li

Charlene Li is founder of the Altimeter Group and the coauthor of the critically acclaimed, bestselling book Groundswell. She is one of the foremost experts on social media and technologies and a consultant and independent thought leader on leadership, strategy, social technologies, interactive media and marketing. Formerly Li was vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research and a consultant with Monitor Group. She was named one of the 12 most creative minds of 2008 by Fast Company, and one of the most influential women in technology 2009. “

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