Effective leadership – lessons from Facebook

There is a lot of research and literature on the subject of leadership that I on many occasions believe leadership and whatever it entails, is a gamble. If leadership is gambling, what then creates effective and, therefore, successful leaders?

Well, leadership effectiveness and success is in many instances attributed to business enabler-factors like: the right business environment, competition and how tough or not it is, offering SMART value proposition to the market, the pedigree of a leader, human resource strategy and the calibre of people at the organisation, strong marketing and sales, research and innovation. I am sure you can add many other enabler-factors to the list.

Unfortunately, all the above enabler-factors are not constant at any one point in time. Enabler-factors above as well as others we have not listed are always changing and impacting one another in ways positive and negative, and that a leader and those around cannot fully comprehend. There is a ‘black-box’ that influences and determines ‘leadership effectiveness and success’ – how I wish me and you knew all its contents and how they mesh, away from our ardent eyes.

The dreaded business 'black-box'

The dreaded business ‘black-box’

A leader may assume that leadership and organisational success come from a favourable business environment, for example, the existence of a sound government policy framework for enterprises. However, you may indeed have a super business environment, but a compromised value offer or weak purchasing power. Even more important, enabler-factors are not always playing against or for one another in a linear manner. Enabler-factors work in sync, but within a complex cause and effect eco-system, moreover with high indeterminateness. I have recently worked in Rwanda, one of the best places to do business in the world. However, success is not automatic if I set up business in Rwanda tomorrow. There are simply many other factors that may impact the company proposition and moreover at depths that me and you do not know.

Yes, I am intimating that while it feels good when we are judged effective leaders, and we tend to attribute this effectiveness to enabler-factors outlined earlier on, the reality could not be any more different. We do not always know what enabler-factors contribute to business effectiveness or not, and by how much. It is not surprising that amidst uncertainty and fear, whole industry sectors have been created to fill this void.

The ‘high-priests’ of business and their omnipotent ‘solution-bank’:

I have practiced as a consultant and did incredibly good work for both commercial and charity sectors. Therefore, I am as guilty as any when I allude to the ‘high-priests’ of the business industry: the CONSULTANT, individual or firm. Consultants have created a whole industry sector, packaging its service offer to business, in an exclusive service package. Commercial and charity businesses, vulnerable to the uncertainties of the ‘black-box’, run to the business ‘church-houses’ (consulting firms) to engage the ‘high-priests’ (consultants) on matters concerning business uncertainties.

At the business ‘church-houses’ are all kinds of ‘bibles’ and ‘scripture’ (consulting models/manuals/& implementation guidelines). Fearful of what may happen to their organisations, leaders and their teams bring back home ‘bibles’ and ‘scripture’ and for this, they pay the ‘high-priests’ handsomely.

When businesses and charities alike, submit to the ways of the business ‘church-houses’ and ‘high-priests’, they end up in a state of ‘seamless-submission’. The immediate consequence of the latter is to attribute success to following the ‘scripture’. When results are not good, organisations do not blame ‘church-houses’ for such failure, but other unforeseen factors. It is like a religion, cult, or movement. The business ‘church-houses’ and ‘high-priests’ have done so good a job at mainstreaming submission, that many organisations know they cannot survive without them. Over time, I have witnessed interesting behaviour at charities and other commercial businesses especially during budgeting time. Without asking many questions, another sign of submission, they include in budgets a generic line called – CONSULTANTS (VARIOUS). We seem unable to run business these days without the heavy involvement of consultants

Submission to ‘scripture’ is deeply engrained in our practices that we replicate the same even in our own organisation eco-system. Within organisations, you will find units, teams, and leaders in charge of strategy, stretch-task teams and I am sure there are all sorts of names that mean the same thing. In effect, organisations have created small business ‘church-houses’ and ‘high-priests’ in-house. These internal ‘high-priests’ like their external peers, present matters to boards of trustees and senior leadership, justifying how various enabler-factors impact business. Yet they know so little about what happens in the business ‘black-box’ and any assertion that they do is like ‘painting in the dark’.

So for those of us intrigued by effectiveness, how do we ensure the effectiveness of what we do and ultimately, our success as leaders?

Lessons from Facebook and its eco-system:

Facebook a social-networking concept, with simple and straightforward information sharing protocols is a powerful model that leaders like you and me can learn from. My hypothesis in this blog is that business enabler-factors outlined at the start of this blog are critical and indeed influence business effectiveness and leadership success. However, we can not ascertain the scope and size of their influence. Other than pretending we know, we should acknowledge that the enabler-factors are critical, but we do not yet know the extent to which they impact businesses.

The one factor I know we can manipulate in the long term, and will ‘drive’ all other enabler-factors, is PEOPLE. If businesses and leaders get their PEOPLE-agenda correct, they will attain much better control of the ‘black-box’ effects. It is PEOPLE that: think out of the box and innovate; analyse the business environment, markets and competition; and most of all implement the leader’s vision. Leaders do not have the bandwidth to achieve their vision, and it is the people that work for leaders that help them do so.

Unfortunately, having the right PEOPLE at an organisation is not enough to ensure effectiveness and success. The climate at an organisation as well as active listening and dialogue, determine the productivity (effectiveness/success) of PEOPLE. As a leader, I have seen and heard business ‘church-houses’ and ‘high-priests’ recommend all sorts of ’scripture’ on this PEOPLE subject. But why not pause for a moment and ask if external parties can ever deliver your PEOPLE strategy on your behalf. In my opinion, the PEOPLE strategy differentiates effective and successful leaders from the amateurs. Once the PEOPLE-magic gets working, be assured of impacting the rest of the other business enabler-factors. Those employing generations Y and Z need to pay even more attention to the PEOPLE-agenda. It is by getting the best out of teams (PEOPLE), that leaders succeed at addressing business ‘black-box’ vulnerabilities.

The lessons from Facebook:

In order for the ‘PEOPLE-asset’ to become productive in a sustainable manner, businesses need more than the right people.  To get the best out of PEOPLE, leaders can borrow a leaf from Facebook’s privacy settings. While Facebook can open you up to the world, it also has tighter privacy settings that allow you to completely ring-fence yourself to your social world. Facebook is a world of both extremes:

  1. Public – anyone will see what you post to your Facebook world
  2. Friends – only those marked friends can see what you post to your Facebook world
  3. Private – Only you can see what you post to your Facebook world

Leaders can choose to emulate any of the above three Facebook privacy settings in regards to engaging their teams and creating the right climate.

  • In style one above, a leader can choose to practice a completely open-door approach and consider leadership as genuine service to the PEOPLE
  • In style two, a leader can opt to ring-fence him or herself and only allow a tightly knit clique to access them
  • In style three, a leader may choose to box themselves and only issue diktats from their ‘island’. This style of leadership is likely to use business ‘church-houses’ and ‘high-priests’ (internal and external) to determine diktats and oversee enforcement

I am not sure what your individual experience is, but I see many leaders avoiding style three while the majority of leaders seem to embrace style two. I suppose it is the nature of leadership + all the pressure it bestows on one, that forces leaders to feel anxious and only trust a few friends

My choice: Style one.  After all, it is leaders that create an atmosphere in which all PEOPLE are kept ‘warm’ and feel free to contribute towards the organisations value proposition, that are sustainably effective and successful at their work.

My takeaway: The answer to effective leadership and addressing many of the unknowns in the business ‘black-box’ is in the diversity and strength/s of your team. However, for the team’s full potential to be realised, the organisational ‘social-media’ dynamics have to be correct.

How is the ‘climate’ at your organisation?



Categories: You, the Leader!

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