The CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty, doesn’t tweet, and her presence is minimal on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. Does this mean that one of America’s most powerful tech CEOs doesn’t make the grade as an engaged leader? Hardly. She’s actually a model leader for a new era.
Rometty doesn’t tweet simply because it’s not a part of her larger plan. Instead she’s frequently on IBM’s internal social networking site, getting feedback, responding to comments, and connecting with employees. She is focused on those direct forms of engagement where her personal agency can have the greatest impact.
Rometty and other leaders like her know the value of social and digital tools, and they use them wisely. They don’t chase every bright shiny app or platform that comes along. They are successful because they take a thoughtful approach to utilizing the multitude of tools, digital and otherwise, that come and go. They use them in a focused way to listen to employees, share ideas, and engage their workforce more effectively.
I’ve spent considerable time working with executives–in small groups and large public venues–researching solutions and designing tools to help them develop digital skills and strategies. I’ve written two previous books on the topic and have field-tested numerous ideas, dashboards, and practical models. In my new book, The Engaged Leader, I have distilled much of my advice on engaged leadership into the three steps that leaders should take to successfully hasten their digital transformation: listen, share, and engage.
These three steps work together to create a runway for engaged leaders to accomplish their goals.
We know that listening is a fundamental part of developing relationships. It helps us understand what people are interested in and where they are coming from. In a sense, the best talkers are also the best listeners. We see this everywhere we go. We can’t walk in and engage a group at a networking event or a conference luncheon unless we initially stop to listen–who is in the conversation, what are their concerns, what are they talking about? With that information you can enter the fray and steer the conversation in a strategic way. The same is true for many types of dialogue–listen first and then share.
The art of listening takes on new meaning in the digital age. We can listen to tens, hundreds, or thousands of people all at once without ever looking them in the eye. And we can do this on a continual basis–at scale. With technology we can listen to our direct reports down the hall, front-line employees down the street, and project teams across the globe. We can listen for ideas, opinions, and complaints. We can also listen to what employees are saying about the organization–to us directly and to each other on public social networks. It’s an awesome new world when we can tune in so easily and deeply—but it is also a noisy and distracting world without the proper filters.
There is an art and science to listening in the digital age. The art of listening entails choosing who and what to listen to in order to accomplish the goals you’ve set forth, whereas the science of listening involves utilizing certain tools and techniques that are proven, effective ways to focus a leader’s attention on what matters and to avoid information overload.
Like listening, sharing is a fundamental skill. We say that people who don’t share close themselves off from others and become socially isolated, while those who proceed in the other extreme, oversharing, watch their efforts at openness backfire as people back away from them.
Much of that strategic balance is lost in traditional hierarchies, where sharing is rigidly structured and constrained. Each layer of an organization is designed to filter information up and push decisions down. And that doesn’t make a lot of sense. After all, if you examine all the information within a company, maybe 1% or 2% of it truly needs to be kept under lock and key: mergers and acquisitions, compensation, and proprietary information (like the formula for Coke). Yet we teach leaders that in order to be successful, they must hoard information to enhance their own value.
The opposite is true in a networked organization where sharing is a net positive. When leaders share, they engage and attract followers. In essence, leaders become facilitators who accelerate the spread of information and shape the decision-making process. The art of sharing—including what content to share and how to shape it with strategic intent—includes exploring how to make something more shareable, utilizing emotion, authenticity, and uniqueness.
The upshot of this type of sharing is that people will stop grasping at what you, the leader, are looking for. They can stop guessing what you are thinking. Instead they will know what you want and expect, and they can focus on delivering it.
Data from Gallup shows that only 13% of people worldwide are engaged at work, meaning they are emotionally invested in creating value for their organizations. And despite many companies’ best efforts to address this problem, that number has barely budged since 2010. In other research, we’ve seen that engagement occurs when people feel appreciated for a job well done. Long-term satisfaction is less about compensation and more about being on the team and part of something important.
Yet, historically, engagement within organizations has been inefficient and haphazard. Leaders could reach out and personally shake hands with only a few people at a time, or perhaps a few hundred through town hall meetings.
Now, in the networked world, the constraints of time and space are largely eliminated. Leaders can personally engage with individuals or groups through multiple touch points, thereby cultivating and transforming relationships purposefully. Discussions can be far more fluid, leading to a deeper ongoing relationship that aligns people around common objectives. Engagement, after all, is a strategic type of dialogue that extends beyond engaging employees to engaging customers, partners, and shareholders of every stripe.
For the engaged leader, the art of engagement includes deciding when and how to connect with followers in a focused way. Engagement in the digital age needs to be orchestrated. The science, again, is about using digital tools to achieve a specific goal and putting in enough practice to become proficient. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The three parts of this model–Listen at Scale, Share to Shape, and Engage to Transform–are fluid and overlap: We listen in advance of sharing, and share as a way to engage. Separately, as well as in concert, these steps are designed to help leaders develop their instincts, skills, and confidence. They will also guide institutions–businesses, communities, and schools–on how to develop and nurture digitally engaged leaders.
The framework for becoming an engaged leader–listen, share, engage–will serve as a template for leaders as they undergo their digital transformation and guide others along the journey. All the aspects of the art and science of digital leadership mentioned here are open to anyone. They require only an openness to change, a willingness to practice, and the dedication to prepare by anchoring digital strategy to goals and objectives.
Adapted from The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Your Digital Transformation, by Charlene Li, copyright 2015. Reprinted by permission of Wharton Digital Press.