I remember talking to a senior leader many years ago about his relationship with people in his company. His view was that he and his leadership team very much had a them and us hands-off attitude to the employees in the company, those at the coal-face so to speak. Now this might sound almost Dickensian to some but in many traditional hierarchical organisations, private and public alike, this is still very much the case.
Compare this then to the drive for CEOs, board members and other senior managers to be more open and use the many social media tools at their disposal to engage with people. The reticence to get personally involved in such direct interaction with those outside the leadership team is directly related to that them and us mindset.
Leaders Can Engage Using Social Media
If senior leaders consider themselves to be above using social media and engaging with their customers, suppliers, press and employees then one has to ask what is it that they do that they have to hide. There are exceptions of course.
Richard Branson has taken to social media like the proverbial duck to water but that’s hardly surprising given his outgoing and self-publicising personality. Not everyone will be as comfortable as he is or indeed have the celebrity status that allows him to expound on what he believes while keeping his business operations in the public eye.
So if Richard Branson is at one end of the spectrum being as open and transparent with his thoughts and views why can’t others. Surely it isn’t the celebrity status?
The Expectations of Millennials
The world has changed and is evolving fast. 2015 is expected to be the year when so called millennials will constitute over 50% of the workforce. I say “so called” as I firmly believe that the characteristics that are attributed to the Millennial generation are a state of mind more than anything else.
The expectations of involvement, openness and trust that millennials have will start to shape the organizations of the world.
This won’t happen overnight in existing organizations as these places have existing hierarchies and rigid cultures of their own.
It’s very difficult to operationalise a them and us culture when the push is for greater openness, transparency and involvement and when information is far more widely available than it was even 10 years ago. Traditional large corporations such as IBM are clearly encouraging their senior managers and leaders to be as open as they can be – you only have to look at the number of Twitter accounts of senior IBMers that exist.
Opening Up Means Becoming Human
When senior leaders and managers open up more via social media or just in their day-to-day dealings with people they become more human. Their emotions and vulnerabilities as well as their knowledge and expectations are now on show.
The next stage is to ensure that this isn’t all just show. This is easily tested. Authentic engagement is what millennials of all ages expect to be the norm. A leader who is open and outgoing must expect to receive feedback and comments from employees and outsiders alike. Ignoring them or letting support staff do the engagement for them is quickly spotted.
So even if you are concerned about becoming more open or about putting your toe into the social media pond – just try. You might be surprised that those you once thought of as them are no different to you at all.
© Paul Slater and Reflect & Lead, 2015.