Can Leaders Lead From the Side?

According to ComScore, we are spending more and more time glued to a screen reading and collaborating on the Internet.

No matter what country you live in, the digital golf cart has long left the clubhouse and it is gaining speed on the high-speed golf greens en route toward 100 percent pervasive participation.

What’s missing?

Dare I say a caddy?

Personally, I’d like to see far more senior executives and leaders gripping the social media (and by extension the social learning) 3-wood and driving participation balls as far as they can.

Enough of the putt-putt mini-golf shenanigans; just grip it and rip it.

By virtue of becoming more participative and thus collaborative with their internal and external social media presence, I reckon senior executives and leaders will begin to demonstrate “sideways leadership” in their organizations.

Sideways leadership is like it sounds – leading horizontally and not just vertically. Social media cuts through hierarchy, or as Chairman Harold Jarche of Internet Time Alliance suggests, “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy, and networks subvert standardization.” To be an effective senior leader in any organization going forward, those who hold positions of high authority should begin to lead sideways and join the conversation as peers of the organization.

Rest assured, everyone else in the organization not in positions of power will continue to respect your title, your experience and your authority. You need not worry about your amplitude; the mere fact you are participating in social media and thereby demonstrating sideways leadership will spread at the speed of a tee shot. Think about children who just found out there are free cookies at the back table of a second grade function. That’s how fast news will spread that you’re now a “sideways social media leader.”

At the Yammer corporate blog, author Maria Ogneva has found there to be significant benefits of social networks and social media within the organization, specifically as it relates to CEO priorities. McKinsey believes social media technologies are already in fact extending the organization.

But we’re not quite yet at the tee box, ready to yell “fore.”

In Too Big To Know, author David Weinberger states:

“Whether or not the Web tends to make us more insular, we know that human beings have a tendency toward homophily; we prefer to be with people who are like us. All the participants in this debate agree that excessive homophily is a bad thing.”

By extending this argument to senior leaders, I professionally argue that the reason we don’t yet see the internal or external social media participation uptake we yearn for is due to (at least in part) the natural crowd that has formed with senior leaders.

They have to unlearn what they’ve learned. As they spend most of their time with other senior leaders, who is going to break the homophilic cycle that prevents social media from crossing the chasm of increasing senior leadership sideways participation levels?

Fast Company posits people and culture are the biggest barriers to digital transformation inclusive to the use of social media. Not surprisingly, if we don’t have senior leaders practicing sideways leadership through social media, that barrier is going to remain. Heck, we still have 44 percent of organizations blocking the actual use of social media at work.

In summary, we know that people (define as you will) are using the Internet more. I’ve got a hunch this isn’t going to suddenly nose dive or erratically stop. Employee habits, therefore, are changing. Not only are they using the Internet more, it is becoming a natural extension to the way in which business is conducted, how learning and communication occurs and how performance is achieved.

It’s time to introduce sideways leadership into the golf bag of all senior leaders.

Originally posted to CLO Blog. Reprinted with permission.



'Can Leaders Lead From the Side?' have 2 comments

  1. 03/21/2012 @ 9:15 AM Colin Finlay

    Great article! It would be great to see more senior leaders using social media to communicate real time with people.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. 03/23/2012 @ 12:09 PM Dan Pontefract

    Thanks @Colin. Appreciate the feedback.


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Dan Pontefract | dp at danpontefract dot com