Industrial Age leadership was good, or at least efficient. It enabled us to get the most out of every worker; expectations were set; consequences for not meeting minimums were clear. People did what they were told, and went home.
But the Industrial Age is over. And it’s not coming back.
Welcome to the Social Age.
We humans are social down to our very core; social is not just what we do, it’s what we are. Connecting and communicating; sharing ideas, news, tips and sometimes warnings; making introductions; growing our influence. That’s all we’ve ever done.
At first, of course, connections were limited to the confines of our village. Posted letters then tied us together over distances. Phone lines and then e-mail and mobile allowed us to connect globally. Yet, even with all these advances in technology, communication was limited in scope: one person connecting with one other and sometimes for the most powerful, numerous others.
Now, 2 billion of us are connected, many by just one or two degrees of separation. Many more are coming online every day; the entire globe is getting smarter phones, so we are carrying the entire Web around in front pockets and purses. Soon everyone will be just a thumb-press away from everyone else.
Through social, you — and your customers, employees, vendors, and even your competitors — are all just one or two social connections from each other. And they’re all talking to each other, with or without your participation.
This is driving many PR professionals nuts, because nobody will listen to them when they stray too far from the truth. It’s causing those corporate recruiters who represent less-than-desirable employer brands to pull their hair out, because current and past employees are speaking to each other and to potential workmates. And within our organizations, this unfettered connectedness is killing the Industrial Age belief that all-knowing corporate leaders wield all the power.
When everyone has knowledge, where does power come from?
Depending on your outlook, you’re either going to love leading in the Social Age, or you’ll hate it. Regardless, none of us gets a vote on how the Social Age has already changed how we lead:
In the Social Age: Transparency rules
Peel back this grossly-overused buzzword — transparency — and explore what it really means to you and your company today. It means there is no hiding — and corporate spin is seen through the eyes of millions of potential skeptics. Lies are either ignored or plastered all over the Internet. Truths are always discovered. Somebody always knows better.
In this new, socially enabled era leaders and companies that embrace transparency and are led ethically have a distinct advantage over their Industrial Age counterparts who still think they can tell employees and customers how to think.
In the Social Age: Empowerment isn’t optional
The key to employee empowerment? Give employees the tools they need to create, communicate and collaborate — create a safe, respectful work environment — and then get out of the way.
After all, intelligent and capable team members don’t need your permission to work well together. They don’t need your blessing to creatively solve problems. They need to understand the “why.” They need to believe in the mission. And they need your support.
In the Industrial Age, leaders focused on “buy-in” often through manipulative motivation. In the Social Age, employees — once they see the objective — empower themselves. Wise leaders delight in this; they give up their role as controllers; they become facilitators and motivators. As Brian Fanzo says: leaders aspire to inspire!
In the Social Age: Trust is everything
The trust imperative isn’t about getting others to trust you as a leader: it’s all about trusting your people to work like the mature, responsible adults you hired them to be.
This means tearing up rulebooks, discarding employee manuals, and throwing out antiquated policies designed to help managers exert control. And it means backing off the stifling metrics Industrial Age management often used to ensure everyone was doing exactly what was expected and saying exactly what they were supposed to say.
In this economy, it is the inventive and solution-oriented organizations that will thrive. Old-school procedures are being replaced with ingenuity; customer service scripts replaced with creativity. And only those employees who feel 100 percent trusted are willing to stick their necks out and make a real difference, if only for one customer at a time.
The Social Age isn’t for sissies. For many, this transition won’t be easy. But change is coming, which makes the question you must answer quite simple:
Are you ready to be a Social Age leader?
Ted Coiné is the chairman and founder of SwitchandShift.com, which works with leadership to focus on the human side of business, and he is host of The Human Side TV, where he interviews the most fascinating minds in business each week. Mark Babbitt is the CEO and founder of YouTern, a talent community that enables college students, recent graduates and young careerists to become highly employable by connecting them to high-impact internships, mentors and contemporary career advice.
Together Coiné and Babbitt have co-authored “A World Gone Social,” which gives today’s leaders the tools and information they need to survive in a business climate in which customers hold all the cards. In the Social Age, companies who are unwilling to change play the role of the dinosaurs, are destined for extinction. “A World Gone Social” gives the readers the keys to avoid this fate — and lead their organization into this exciting business climate.