Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review: Open Leadership

Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (J-B Warren Bennis Series)Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead by Charlene Li
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I recently finished reading Open Leadership by Charlene Li. I "stumbled" upon this book on a reading list for the University of Washington's Masters of Communication in Digital Technology program. I didn't know anything about the book, but the subtitle: "How Social Technology can Transform the Way You Lead," intrigued me. I've recently become a junkie for all things social.

Shortly after I started reading Open Leadership, I discovered that Charlene Li is an acknowledged industry leader in social technology, among other things, and is also the founder of the Altimeter Group, an advisory firm that specializes in helping companies utilize so-called "disruptive technologies."

Don't worry, I wasn't sure exactly what a disruptive technology was myself, so I looked it up. I am nothing if not a Google aficionado. Disruptive technologies are, roughly, technologies or innovations that "disrupt" existing practices by creating a new way of doing things or even a new "thing" to do. That is, they create a new market or value network. Social technology can be considered a disruptive technology in that it changes the way that businesses and individuals communicated (to a degree) and creates an entirely new activity altogether, you really can't say that "Facebooking" is comparable to talking on the phone or reading an email; it's something unique and new.

Whenever this kind of innovation comes a long, it can be difficult to embrace this new technology and to make the transition from the "old way" of doing things to the "new way." The Altimeter Group attempts to lubricate that transition.

Why did I just spend three paragraphs talking about disruptive technology? Really? Do I ever need an excuse to talk about something for three paragraphs?

But, in all seriousness, this difficulty was the catalyst for Open Leadership.

The term "open-leadership" itself refers to the style of leadership that values transparency, authenticity, and trust. If you are hearing a lot of "buzzing" from those words, don't adjust your audio; it just means that this is not a new idea. Social technology (via the popularity and ease of information sharing and the incredible connected-ness of the world) has played an important role in creating the market or desire for these "open" attributes.

As I said, social technology changed the business marketing and communication game in many ways. It changed the nature of the business-client relationship and that transition has been rough for many businesses. Open Leadership is a manual on helping your company or agency accept the inevitability of this changed game, take control of your destiny in it, and embrace the possibilities that it offers.

And I am not joking when I say it is a manual. The book is full of lists, tests, diagrams, worksheets, and auditing methods for you to (relatively) scientifically examine the "openness" of your organization. It also outlines the essential elements of an open leadership plan and walks you through the steps to creating and sustaining that plan. It is intensely practical edging on overwhelming at times.

With that in mind, this is not a book that I plan on shelving or giving away. It will stay close by (kind of inevitable as it's on my Kindle and my phone) for continued reference, partially because there are some really great tools inside and partially (mostly) because there are a lot of things that I didn't retain the first time through. Seriously, there are a lot of lists in this book...

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