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John R. Ryan
Military/Administrative leader

John R. Ryan

John R. Ryan is president of the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive education.

Using social media to enhance authenticity and collaboration

Question: Through the effective use of online social media, a small group of political amateurs were able to organize and instigate street demonstrations across Egypt that now threaten to topple the Mubarak regime. How does their success change our notions of what leadership in the Internet age is all about?

The powerful ends to which social media are being used in Egypt call to mind two important lessons. First, the Internet can and will continue to be a game-changer in organizations, communities and entire nations in which a serious leadership vacuum exists. Second, in situations in which solid, servant leadership is already in place, social media won't spark the same monumental changes. But it will keep leaders on their toes and constantly challenge them to develop two crucial skills: authenticity and collaboration.

Forty years of experience and research at the Center for Creative Leadership has given me the perspective that leadership success starts with authenticity, or approaching our jobs by being true to our own positive values and principles. People will trust us because of that, and that trust makes it possible to get things done. To stay authentic as we move up the career ladder, we need mirrors--trusted colleagues, friends and spouses who will look us in the eye and tell us what we're doing well and where we need to improve. Social media offers another valuable mirror: a chance to hear directly from customers and colleagues about their concerns. We can't afford to lose touch with reality when our organizational and personal brand is in the hands of bloggers, Tweeters and Facebookers who are free to say what they want about us.

Engagement, humility and transparency are important for every leader. In particular, we can learn to be more collaborative, and that's a skill at which every leader can improve. In his new book Boundary Spanning Leadership, my colleague Chris Ernst reports that 86 percent of senior executives believe it is extremely important to work across geography, business units, generations and other boundaries. But only 7 percent of these executives said they are very effective at doing so. That's a big gap, and social media can help close it. By engaging in two-way conversations with our clients and constituents, we have more opportunities to see other points of view and build relationships.

These conversations are a valuable supplement (though not a substitute) to walking around the halls of our organizations or sitting down face-to-face with clients. Effective, sustainable leadership has always come down to a few key skills, with authenticity and collaboration high on the list. The Internet age doesn't change what those skills are, but it gives us great incentive to enhance them right now.

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By John R. Ryan

 |  February 9, 2011; 10:22 AM ET
Category:  Pop culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Excellent piece that points out the power – sometimes scary power – of social media. In the leadership world, careful control of this tool is a must. As this article (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-contact/how-not-to-build-with-bytes) points out, electronic communication can backfire as easily as it works.

Posted by: Julie-Ann1 | February 20, 2011 11:22 PM
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Excellent,
But I believe there is one valuable (I think) component of the so-called social media that is being ignored; that is WikiLeaks and its children which are sure to come.

Like it or not, the internet has now provided the masses with the power to pull back the emerald curtains of evil "leaders" in every form of government across the globe, even within our own sometimes less than democratic institutions of Congress, Supreme Court, White House, and down to the councils of the smallest, remote village in Alaska.

Posted by: DavidinDallas | February 10, 2011 1:40 PM
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John, I appreciate your article.

The leadership lesson:

- being authentic
- being transparent
- being proactive

and acknowledging, understanding and valuing the beliefs and opinions of someone different than yourself.

Posted by: KACarter07 | February 9, 2011 12:18 PM
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Excellent article .... the leadership lesson ... the need for:

- being authentic
- being transparent
- being engage

and stepping out of your comfort zone to acknowledge, understand and value people (and their opinions and perspectives) that are different than you.

Posted by: KACarter07 | February 9, 2011 12:15 PM
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