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information revolution

How Social Media Transforms us From Managers into Leaders

While traditional business literature has identified an aching for leadership qualities in business and government positions, we’ve all come together to exchange ideas in the last few years- likely making traditional leadership qualities more obtainable than ever before.

Ask any MPA or MBA student about the staple literature for every organizational management course they’ve taken and you’ll likely see their eyes grow dull as they recall Abraham Zaleznik’s 1992 Harvard Business Review article, Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? They will grumble the opening words, “What is the ideal way to develop leadership?…” If you haven’t read the article, it outlines mutually exclusive and contrasting qualities of leaders and managers. And if you haven’t taken a class in which the article was highlighted, the first question seemingly every professor asks is, “Which one are you? A manager or a leader?

Here’s the answer: Thanks in part to the social revolution, we are (increasingly) both.

Here’s how managers and leaders measure up, according to Zaleznik’s famous article:

According to Abraham Zaleznik's HBR article "Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?" Managers have less than desirable qualities and leaders are rare.

And here’s how social media and current trends are melding us into leaders:

1) Leaders change what’s possible- and thanks to new technologies, we all have an opportunity to do this.  Zaleznik draws a strict differentiation between a manager and a leader’s attitude toward goals.  For managers, goals arise out of necessities, not desires. Leaders, however, “change how people think about what’s desirable and possible.” Social technologies are increasingly altering the way we communicate, and– in many cases– the ways to use social technologies have not yet been perfected. This provides an incredible avenue for potential leadership, especially for tech-savvy and still-unproven members of Generation Y. Things are changing. Social networks are now hitting more than 50% of the online audience- and there’s a rush to get your online strategy figured out by 2014, when social technologies are projected to capture 165 million users. There’s a need to be filled. Go leaders (everyone), go!

2) Leaders take a personal, active outlook- like you are taking right now as you read this post.  Did you know that there are well over 133,000,000 blogs on the web and more than 346,000,000 people read blog globally? That’s a lot of people putting their thoughts into the world- and most of them are not blogging for money.  Like leaders, these bloggers are taking a personal, active outlook on their industry or interests. The 346 million blog readers are also taking a personal, active outlook as they subscribe to sites and form their own opinions about what they read. Crowdsourcing (that’s a Wikipedia link; I figured it was only appropriate) is growing increasingly common and it is dependent upon people exerting time, energy, and willpower to a problem or cause. Utilizing all of these active leaders on the web has even been championed as a way for organizations to make better decisions.

3) Leaders develop fresh approaches, and we are now armed with more information than ever before. Another quality of leaders– in which managers are again lacking, according to Zaleznik– is that leaders have the rare ability to come at obstacles with fresh perspectives and an ability to increase options. Yes, we are undergoing a social media revolution, but this is occurring in the midst of (or perhaps as a subset of) the much-larger information revolution. Especially in the last 20 years, finding fresh methods to increase options to tackle business problems has become significantly easier. Just hop online and conduct a Google search to discover academic articles and blog posts about techniques being used in any industry. Moreover, not only are lessons regarding your industry of focus shared, but lessons can be easily gathered from other industries allowing folks to gather more information and create these fresh perspectives.  Utilizing this technology comes at little cost and, on a similar note, some of the greatest businesses in history were born out of recessions or times of resourcefulness.

4) Leaders make transparency a value. Consumers love social media because doing it well requires brand transparency (and the web is full of tips for marketers about how to do this); whether it’s an organizational brand or a personal brand. Truth be told,  Zaleznik doesn’t use the word “transparency” to describe leaders. He uses “passionate” and “personal.” He describes managers, on the other hand, as being apathetic, coercive, detached, and frequently using ambiguous words and gestures to avoid blame. When using social media, those characteristics just won’t fly. What does fly is honesty, sincere relationships, and adding value- qualities that align more with leaders in 2010 than with Zaleznik’s managerial qualities. In order to successfully utilize social media, you must have at least some of Zaleznik’s leadership qualities or you’re organization will only have one Facebook fan (Good thing your mom just figured out how to “like” organizations on Facebook).

5) Leaders do not tie their identity to an organization. Leaders and managers possess a very different sense of self,  Zaleznik argues. Leaders feel that they are separate from the organizations that employ them while managers feel their organization is tied to individual identity or purpose.  Right now, we are experiencing a trend toward organizational separateness. In fact, for members of Generation Y, the line between work and life is so thin that the idea of previous generations feeling intrinsically tied to an organization could be considered extreme to them (well, to us).  This is also a generation of multi-taskers with their own ongoing side-gigs that allow them the ability to intertwine work and life by doing the things they love. But Generation Y most certainly isn’t the only generation with side projects and developing their own leadership identities! In fact, Peter Drucker’s (awesome) Harvard Business Review article, Managing Oneself, is not generally considered an HBR leadership favorite for nothing. Social media helps us bridge the gap between work and life and our professional and personal ventures.

Leaders are traditionally thought to be rare and hard to come by. But it has never been easier to be a leader than it is right now. Times are changing and perhaps we’ll even find ourselves in the opposite position in 2042 than we were in in 1992: aching for more analytic managers than awe-inspiring leaders. Or the entire idea of a manager will become irrelevant as organizations become more organic and self-governing… or leaders will evolve to be people who can walk the line between do-er and thinker… or something else will happen as our business practices evolve. Either way, the clear-cut line between the contrasting characteristics of managers and leaders is blurring. Not only are we called upon to demonstrate both skill sets on a day-to-day basis, but we simply must be both managers and leaders in order to compete with our similarly talented peers.

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