Disruption As Usual: Embrace The Social Age To Become A More Effective Leader


Disruption.  Constant change.  Relentless innovation.  When was the last time you spent even an hour of your working day free from addressing these issues?

This is not your father’s business environment.

But is the role of the executive really so different from when you were climbing the ranks?  Sure, technology has advanced, but… isn’t leadership leadership, same as always?

Not even remotely.

The most important thing for executives to keep in mind is that this is a new age of business, one that requires its own ways to lead.  Social media itself – especially the media part of it – is barely even a bit player here, nothing more than a catalyst.  MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp…  The platform will change and change again, but the basic conditions will not: people are now talking to each other, and circumventing leaders, on a scale never before imaginable.

Customers are talking to each other: about us, our competitors, our industry, what they wish we’d do for them; often, we’re not even aware of these conversations.  Marketing, PR, and Investor Relations aren’t invited to the party.

Neither are our recruiters.  Prospective workers are talking to each other, to our current employees, and our past insiders, too, to find out what life is really like once that employment contract is signed.

This is all about people, not platforms.  It’s the new rules and expectations that have changed, much more than any technology.

Think of it like this:

Life – and how we worked, and thus how we led – couldn’t have been more radically different than that sudden shift our grandparents faced when our society fully industrialized a century ago.

That is, until now.  The move from factory to phone is every bit as different, as seismic, as was the move from farm to factory before it.

When change is this omnipresent and unstoppable, we who live through it don’t get a vote.  Seriously.  We adapt, or we retire early.  That’s reality.

So who thrives in this scenario?  The leaders who embrace change.  The ones who don’t merely adapt to change, but who bring it to their industries.  Nobody ever complained about disruption when they were the disruptors.  From that stance, disruptive change is nothing but fun.

Sounds nice and all, my C-level audiences remark at least weekly, “But… how?  How do I go from disrupted to disruptor?”

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s easy.  That would make me popular right up until the day you’re put out to pasture for a more modern leader.  I’m not about to do you that “favor” – and I urge you to distrust anyone who does, be they in your boardroom or working for that white shoe consulting company you brought in.

Nothing worth doing is easy.  If you’re an executive, you learned that long ago.

But leadership done well is profoundly, phenomenally simple.  Hopefully, you see the distinction.  And with that in mind, here are five simple things for you to consider and – when you’re ready (hopefully quite soon) – to implement in your own daily leadership principles and actions.

1.  Go Social – See For Yourself

You can’t merely read about this in the Wall Street Journal, and you certainly don’t want to farm out your social responsibilities to a new-hire in PR.  Follow the lead of a small but growing band of social leaders – “Blue Unicorns” because they’re still so hard to find.  Take Dun & Bradstreet’s CEO, Bob Carrigan for example, who was brought in with a mandate to modernize his stodgy 174-year-old brand.

Leading from the frontlines of the 24/7 social discussion has allowed him to meet customers, employees, and influencers he never would have met otherwise.  Showing through his example how serious his company is about becoming the data company his clients will rely on for the next 174 years.

2.  Transparency Is King – Embrace It

Have a deep, dark secret to keep from regulators, investors, your customers or your own staff?  Have fun keeping it!  Secrets are a thing of the past – for better and for worse, indiscriminately, all truths are being unveiled.

Said something snarky about your brand only being for the “cool kids,” as Abercrombie & Fitch’s chairman Mike Jeffries did in 2006 – seven full years before the remarks resurfaced, to demolish his brand and unseat him from his chairmanship?  In the Social Age, it isn’t just important to ‘act good’.  Actually ‘being good’, deep down, is now a business imperative. Today, the truth comes out.

3.  Command And Control Is Out – Let Go

If spin is no longer an option, neither is dictatorship. And that’s an excellent thing for executives interested in attracting – and motivating, and keeping – only the best.  Think of it this way: your employees in this creative-worker economy each have a brain weighing about two pounds.  Don’t make them leave most of that in the parking lot as they walk into work each day!

Humans are smart; we live to work on complex problems.  Social Age executives set a direction, then ask staff to help them figure out how to get there.  Go ahead, give it a try.  You’re going to like this way of leading a lot better than the grumpy metrics-riding boss way.  Your stockholders will like it better, too.

4.  Act Small Or Close Up Shop

In the 1950s, the average time a company spent on the Fortune 500 was 75 years.  Today, it’s closer to seven.  Why?  At some point in nearly every company’s growth trajectory, the bureaucracy takes over decision-making.

Bureaucrats are great at running things the same today as yesterday; what they seem temperamentally ill-suited to is making decisions at lightning speed, ceaselessly questioning every process, and incorporating diverse perspectives.  Those are all the hallmarks of small, nimble organizations – and that’s exactly who is built to thrive in this age of disruption-as-usual.

5.  OPEN Up Your Network

Once upon a time, an enterprise could be compared to a moated castle, with all the skilled workers a company needed to succeed isolated on the inside.  In the Social Age?  The Social Age is the age of OPEN – short for Ordinary People | Extraordinary Network.

Successful larger companies are connected within by collaboration technology, so that the best people can be found and put to work regardless of official job title or department: in this way, talent floats.  Through external-facing social technology, leaders can also identify the world’s most extraordinary individuals or vendors to help with any given project.  Just as large companies need to act small to survive, small companies can “act” big to get any project done by bringing in partners from their network.

Of course, finding the talent you need (internally or externally) and bringing them in to help you requires mutually beneficial relationships, and that isn’t about technology at all: it’s about people.

Which brings us to the rallying cry of the Social Age: More Social. Less Media.

After all, how we connect, on what platform, isn’t really that consequential at all.  The magic is in the connection.  Go social yourself.  Embrace transparency.  Let go of control.  Act small, even if you’re huge.  And OPEN up to the power of your internal and external network.  Do that, and the future is yours for the taking!