The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Digital Transformation | Beth's Blog

The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Digital Transformation

Digital Strategy, Leadership

Technology has altered the way to connect and cultivate professional relationships and it is also transforming how leaders lead.  Social media thought leader Charlene Li has published another book titled “The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Your Digital Transformation” that provides organizational and business leaders with the skills and path to habit change they need to lead in a connected world.  The book offers best practices, examples, and frameworks for leaders who want to nurture and develop a deeper connection with their stakeholders.

The book is a call to action for leaders to transform themselves into “Engaged Leaders.”   Her definition of an engaged leader is someone who uses digital, mobile, and social tools strategically to achieve established goals as they relate to leading people and managing organizations.   And, as she recognizes, putting these skills in everyday practice is uncomfortable — it is a different way of interacting than a command-and-control style   She tells leaders she advises: “If your palms aren’t sweaty and your stomach isn’t churning, then you probably aren’t practicing engaged leadership.”

Li analyzes the triple drivers of digital transformation:  social connectivity and networks; mobility; and data and what they mean for leaders today.  Leaders need to understand that the rise of networks enables us to work together fluidly across space and time, but it also means that the power of hierarchies has declined and the rise of individuals.   With an increasingly mobile and global workforce, leaders need to use mobile tools to a communicate and manage.   And, finally, with the rise of data and automated generation, leaders need to ask and answer questions with data, and faster.

Li has worked extensively with leadership level executives in this digital transformation and the book distill hers advice to help them develop digital skills and strategies.    Her advice boils down to three steps:  listen, share, and engage.   As she points out, these three steps work together to help executives use engagement to reach their goals.

Listen at Scale: How to determine what people need from them and to deepen and enhance their relationship.

In today’s connected world, audience, employees, partners, and donors are talking on digital and social platforms and leaders have the opportunity to listen to the ideas and the concerns they are sharing about your social change issue or programs.   Leaders can listen and respond, not to just one person, but hundreds at a time.  As Charlene Li says, “You listen with your eyes to many people at once, anytime, and from anyplace.”   Listening at scale isn’t about listening to everyone, all the time.   It is about listening to support your goals.

She offers some best practices to avoid having it be overwhelming.  For example, “Use people as filters.”   Leaders don’t need to read everything, but they should follow and listen to other people read everything and curate.  She also talks about listening in layers and scanning environment.  The chapter includes some tips on how to set up personal dashboards using various tools.   The good news is that leaders don’t need to be listening 24/7, Charlene Li recommends 15 minutes a day.

Share to Shape: How to use stories and other stories to develop shared understanding and shape people’s mindsets and actions.

Sharing forges connections with followers that improves relationships, achieve goals, and amplifies a leader’s influence.     The big shift that leaders have to make is to be more comfortable with openness.  There are also a few other shifts — from talking at people to sharing with them; from infrequent reporting to continuous sharing; from formal to informal sharing; and from polished to imperfect.

As the book points out, while fast, frequent, and informal makes it all sound easy, there is an art to it.     Sharing has to help spread authenticity, emotion, and point of view.  This means sharing stories and visuals.   There is also a science part of sharing – and that is how to share.   There is a 6 step framework in the book that begins with creating a plan that outlines the goal, audience, and platform.   One of the best pieces of advice for leaders offered in the book when comes to implementation:  Don’t let it take over your life.    The job of a leader is to motivate others to action on behalf of the organization and social and digital tools make that job easier – leaders don’t need to be the ones to press send – that they can delegate some of the leg work.

The chapter includes some great reflection questions:

  • What stories can you share to advance your top goals?
  • What stories does your team/company/audience need to hear to develop affinity with your organization?
  • How will you know when the stories you’ve shared have made a difference?
  • What won’t you share?  What is off limits?
  • What tools and help from others will you use to enable your personal sharing?

Engage to Transform: How to use two-way dialogue that motivates and mobilizes followers to take collective action.

Listening and sharing come together to make engagement much more potent.  Listening helps the leader see the context and sharing helps get people on the same page.    Listening and sharing establish goodwill between followers and leaders and align people around common objectives.  Engagement helps shape relationships and it can unleash social capital.   The book outlines different types of engagement opportunities for leaders including:

  • Event-based engagement where leaders make themselves available in an open-forum setting in a particular place and time.    It could be a town hall or a “ask me anything” type of event.   While this is can a large scale, it is relatively controlled because the time span is limited.
  • Participatory engagement invites people to answer a particular question or comment on a post.   It levels the playing field for all followers to respond.  It is similar to a feedback survey, but the leader themselves is asking the questions.  The key to success is follow through – once you’ve gotten feedback, you can’t ignore it.
  • Personal engagement: These are one-on-one interactions that happen using internal social networks, social media, or even email.

Engagement is also about how you make your followers think, feel, or act.    The book includes some specific advice about the style and voice leaders need to use to establish rapport with their followers and build influence through engagement.  The book also includes a wonderful chapter about how this approach to digital leadership transforms the organization itself.    One of the case studies in the book includes Carolyn Miles from Save the Children.

As always, Charlene offers up some final advice to leaders, “Start slowly, but start now.”

Is your nonprofit’s leader and engaged leader on digital?  How did they make the transformation?

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