I love a spirited debate! Last week was one of those times I had the unexpected opportunity. While attending a local entrepreneur’s breakfast, a debate started at my table on how social media can make someone a leader. I started as a passive participant but soon found myself embroiled in a fascinating and spirited exchange on leadership and social media.
It started rather simply. We were introducing ourselves around the table with our usual elevator pitches when one person said that he was a leader (in the field of marketing) because he had 3500 LinkedIn connections, 1600 Twitter followers, 1850 Instagram followers, and 1000 Facebook friends.
A few of us took the bait…we asked about his experience and, in particular, why so many people were interested in him.
Let me summarize both sides of the debate.
Pro–social media is built on the premise that people “follow” and “like” you
Con–it’s true that people like and follow leaders but social media is about connections; sometimes people “follow” and “like” you in order to learn what not to do, sort of a voyeuristic learn-not-what-to-do-or-say
Pro–social media leaders can incite people to do good things–like the ALS Ice Bucket challenge
Con–social media leaders can incite people to do bad things–there are numerous examples of cyber-bullying leading to unfortunate outcomes
Pro–it’s much easier and clearly more efficient to communicate via social media
Con–it’s easier and probably more efficient but you also lose control of your message, can’t gauge understanding of followers, and can send quick messages that you later regret (and rarely are messages gone completely even if you take them down)
Pro–people follow me because they have a relationship with me
Con–relationships, particularly those between a leader/follower, are built on mutual knowledge, deep understanding of each other, and ongoing two-way communication and not all social media are designed to foster all of this (often they are one-way vehicles)
Pro–I have a message to get out
Con–So what is your message? What experience do you have that can help a follower? Why do people follow you?
This last question sort of stumped him. It was at this moment that I think everyone realized that the debate wasn’t just about social media. It was really about why people follow, not necessarily how they follow.
It reminded me that people follow leaders because of their knowledge, proven abilities, outlook, and charisma.
Upon reflection, it seems to me there are a few things to keep in mind:
- As a leader, use media appropriately and integrate it into your leadership yet don’t rely on only one way to lead. No one method works (and for many, it is multiple methods). Some will follow simply because they are in awe. Others may want a dialogue. Some learn from observing.
- Be clear on why someone follows you, is connected with you, likes you, friends you, etc. Upfront make it clear what is your expertise and outlook. Tell your story succinctly.
- Have something meaningful to say. Share your experience. Tell stories, give examples, and refer to other sources.
- Find a way to foster a mutual relationship–make it a two-way communication. Engage with others–keep the “social” in social media.
To finish the story, our debate went on for another 10 minutes with no real resolution. But I’m not sure there was a need for one. What started as a debate became a discussion. Both sides made cases for appropriate social media usage.
And it ended on a profound notion that we all agreed to: that this debate helped us to bond, to learn, and to respect each other deeper. The respectful exchange of opinions deepened our knowledge and understanding.
Yep, leadership is about the character within and not just about the characters in a message.
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