The development of the Societal Web has enabled individuals to become publishers, authors, musicians, radio stars, and commentators on anything and everything. Hierarchical structures have broken down and leadership is something which no longer comes as a result of position, at least not online.
By definition, a leader is somebody who goes to new places or existing places by new or difficult routes. In doing so, they attract others to follow their example and to aspire to achieve the same goals as they have achieved. Followers have to be able to see enough of the leader’s aims and goals and methods to believe that they are appropriate for them; they must remain in touch, and close. In the Societal Web visibility is universal, so the ability to be seen is equally available to each of us.
When we look to see who can bring each of us on, to a new level, we seek out those people who we believe provide additional knowledge and skills through their contributions online, but also whose knowledge is attainable, reachable, and comprehendible. If we are bamboozled by technical terms, lost in acronyms, or confused by detail that is beyond our current knowledge we will seek others and grow our understanding from them. For this reason, I describe leadership in the Societal Web in the context of being (no more than) half an hour ahead.
If a leader is seeking to build a strong following and is providing knowledge which requires detailed study and effort, then hours of work lie ahead to become an expert through that knowledge, people follow those who make those hours a pleasure rather than a chore. Malcolm Gladwell indicates over 10,000 hours is required for true expertise in his book ‘Outliers’, so we are talking about years of following, not reading a few articles. Throughout that time the leader needs to be just far enough ahead to be reachable, just far enough for you to strive to learn; half an hour at a time. If that effort is too great we simply move away.
So for each of us it is likely that the people we follow closely are close to us; their abilities and skills, or ability to communicate their knowledge and skills, is done at our level. If you seek to be a leader in the Societal Web this is a point that has to be borne in mind with care. We need to be attracting followers at every level through our knowledge and skills, not just those who are capable of being within half an hour of our own current pinnacle of our knowledge and skills.
Adaptability: a key skill for leaders.
When we produce content on the Societal Web, when we write a blog, when we distribute articles, PDFs, when we engage in conversation in groups and social networking sites, we create levels of engagement with others. Those near us who challenge us and bring us on, and those near us who we are challenging and bringing on, are clearly our closest cabal. But a great leader will be able to communicate his knowledge and skills so that to all of his followers he appears no more than half an hour ahead.
To do this you need adaptability, an ability to see when messages are being misinterpreted and misunderstood, an ability to engage in different mediums and different ways according to the needs of those whom you lead. Leadership has always been an honour, not something that can be bestowed by one person on behalf of others but which you earn through the followership of others, on the Societal Web that followership is much more visible and in many ways more tangible. For many, this is changing the nature of leadership, and their ability to communicate with, and build others.
As a democratizing force, the Societal Web has enabled us all to become both leaders and followers, to be seen by many as an expert whilst simultaneously learning from expertise elsewhere. As we bring people towards us as leaders through sharing our knowledge, skills and experience, so we too have a duty to them to maintain our lead, to keep as Stephen Covey would say, “sharpening the saw”. The best, the very best, don’t forget their roots, they maintain a presence wherever their leadership is needed and they provide a skill and an experience of leadership in this new world in ways which others are still struggling to find.
For social networking, the masters of an offline world that have made a transition online are demonstrating that ability to be adaptable and to change, Ivan Misner is one such, for those involved online, Louis Gray, Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble, and here on Ecademy people like Steven Healey, Alan Stevens, Nick Tadd, and Penny Power and others have all created their own niches and followerships in that market and demonstrate effectively the skills of leadership by being half an hour ahead.
This is not a new type of leadership, nor does it require new skills, it’s a new framework in which to place your leadership when you consider those whom are following you and whom you seek to support. It needs strategy and thought to be consistent and make it work well, but I hope that these thoughts help you towards developing your own Leadership in the Societal Web.