social leadership

What is social leadership? Simply put, it’s shifting the focus from you to we. All organizational leaders are part of complex human social networks. The great fallacy of leadership is that leaders control.

“Control is a mirage. The most effective leaders right now–men and women–are those who embrace traits once considered feminine: Empathy. Vulnerability. Humility. Inclusiveness. Generosity. Balance. Patience.” —Leigh Buchanan, Inc. Magazine

These traits need to be combined with one single mission: to create better work environments. Social leaders understand that first we shape our structures, and then our structures shape us. Working on the business means working on how the organization is designed. The Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments have shown us that if you put a good person in a bad system, the system always wins.

Here is the ABC TV re-enactment of the famous Milgram Experiment [note that the methods in Milgram’s original experiment have been put in question] :

“One of the subjects in the television program was a 7th grade teacher who explained that she didn’t stop shocking the learner because as a teacher she had learned when a student’s complaints were phony. I thought to myself, “Has she electrocuted many students?”

The teacher asked the researcher, “There isn’t going to be any lawsuit from this medical facility, right?” When told that the teacher was not liable, she replied, “That’s what I needed to know.” It is however worth noting that this was after she induced the maximum shock and the learner demanded that the experiment be terminated.” —Gary Stager

Dr. Philip Zimbardo conducted the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, where students played their roles as guards or prisoners and abuses started within 24 hours:

“But on the second morning, the prisoners rebelled; the guards crushed the rebellion and then instituted stern measures against these now “dangerous prisoners”. From then on, abuse, aggression, and eventually sadistic pleasure in degrading the prisoners became the daily norm. Within thirty-six hours the first prisoner had an emotional breakdown and had to be released, followed in kind by similar prisoner breakdowns on each of the next four days.” —Guy Kawasaki’s Blog

The initial design of the work environment, organization, or business influences everything else. Creating the best, and most human, environment for people to get work done should be the only job of a CEO. Everything else is merely tinkering.

Social leadership focuses on building better work structures. It consists of strengthening social networks, so that people can connect to do their work better. Social leaders practice and promote personal knowledge mastery, so everyone takes responsibility for sense-making and knowledge-sharing. Active experimentation is encouraged through constant learning by doing, as best practices are useless in dealing with complexity. Business results will emerge from the entire network, when everyone is responsible in a transparent and open organization. Social leaders are builders. They focus on creating a more social workplace first and foremost.

work in network era

Related Posts:

Good Leaders Connect

7 Guidelines for Managing Open Networks

Move the Hierarchy to the Rear

4 thoughts on “social leadership”

  1. Thanks for this post.
    I totally agree with you about the organizational design impact on people (skills, motivation, collaboration…), and consequently on business & performance… Hence the advantages of a social workplace…

    “Creating the best, and most human, environment for people to get work done should be the only job of a CEO”. I would just add strategy and an aligned & people centric organization should be the only job of a CEO…

    best regards


Leave a comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.