MT Expert - Innovation: Don't be an antisocial leader

What's your leadership style for 2012 - social or anti-social? Social media strategist Jemima Gibbons has a few tips for employers wondering: 'to tweet or not to tweet?'

by Jemima Gibbons
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

'Be real and use your best judgement'. This is the simple policy which governs Twitter use at Zappos, the hugely successful online shoe store bought by Amazon for a cool $1.2bn back in 2009.

A third of Zappos’ 1500 employees are now on Twitter. The most prominent of whom is its CEO, Tony Hseih, who tweets thoughts and ideas around 'Delivering Happiness' - the concept around which he bases his business philosophy.

Hsieh is a 'social' leader. He prioritises company culture above all else. He runs Zappos on twin principles: excellent customer service and high employee engagement. Zappos customers and employees are famously loyal and committed. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are seen as the perfect medium for them to communicate, within the corporate firewall as much as outside it.

We live in a knowledge economy, where information sharing and collaboration have become the norm. But 48% of UK businesses still ban social media at work. Are they shooting themselves in the foot with this draconian stance on social?

Managers need to look at ways of using social tools to encourage openness and collaboration among their staff. But in order to make this happen, they need to take inspiration from Hsieh and become more 'social' themselves.

The Global Leadership Forecast 2011, produced by DDI in conjunction with the CIPD, identified coaching, developing talent, fostering innovation and driving and managing change as key skills for the future. Yet the survey found that less than half of business leaders think they are any good at these.

Management training is partly to blame. New York’s Columbia University has launched an MSc in Information and Knowledge Strategy as an alternative to the MBA. Course director Linda Stoddart sees curation (managing information) and collaboration skills as crucial to support the innovation and change that today’s companies need.

Friendly, well-connected and approachable... Many of us like to think of ourselves as social. But the reality is that when deadlines hit, our nurturing, temperate side can fly out of the window. Today’s business geniuses are those who manage to keep their cool when the pressure is on. 

When Zappos was forced to lay off nearly 10% of its workforce in 2008, Hsieh drafted a long email to employees explaining the reasons. Hundreds of them reacted strongly to the news on Twitter. But what could have been seen by many bosses as a PR nightmare was embraced by Hsieh as a demonstration of transparency.

Zappos’ core values may include fluffy maxims such as 'build a positive team' and 'create fun'. But they work. Hsieh is, twice-over, a millionaire. He built a profitable business from scratch to a $1bn turnover in under 10 years. And Zappos consistently appears in Fortune Magazine’s Best Companies To Work For.

What are your resolutions for 2012? Maybe one could be to check your own leadership style and stress levels. Is your behaviour generally empowering or weakening the team around you? Are your employees driven by adrenalin or dopamine (only one of these works long-term)!

If you do ban social networking during working hours, is this something your employees are accessing anyway on their mobile phones? Might it not be better to lift the ban, introduce awareness training and a corporate wide social media policy, and enable knowledge to flow more freely through your business?

It’s worth bearing in mind that, in the information age, your company’s social network - both on and offline - is one of its greatest assets.

Jemima Gibbons is social media strategist at All About Brands and author of Monkeys with Typewriters: Myths & Realities of Social Media at Work published by Triarchy Press (2009)

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