Ok, so it’s happened again. I’ve found myself in the midst of another spirited debate on social media and leadership.
I was at a luncheon a few weeks ago when the speaker presented each table with a question to discuss. My table received “What are the best methods to advertise and get attention for your leadership”.
The discussion began rather predictably. We discussed what it meant to be a leader. We moved on to the philosophical discussion on whether a leader needs to advertise. Frankly, I found this to be much more interesting since I tend to come from the camp that leaders become leaders because others want to follow, not because they are enticed to follow.
Actually, psychologically it goes a bit deeper. Followers see in leaders something that rekindles a positive emotional memory which they wish to recapture and, more importantly, they want to use in their present situation. That situation could be work, personal, developmental, relationship, etc. The point is there is a connection to the leader because of a memory coupled with a desire.
We then moved on to discuss the importance of influence in the leader-follower relationship. I mentioned that I resonate with much of what is known about influence from research and then from practice. This included Cialdini’s six principles of influence where I mentioned that leaders are often likable, have proven experience and authority, provide consistency, and gather groups of followers who not only follow the leader but who can also learn from fellow followers.
The discussion then moved to examples from each of us. I used the example of a longtime client. What makes him a leader is his uncanny ability to gather people around him. While he has had enormous success in business, he often cites his success in making the world a better place and especially in inspiring others to do so.
He has learned how to challenge people while also serving as a role model. Low-key and likable, he stands firm in his beliefs and convictions. He wields influence not from his wealth but from his abundance of experience demonstrated in a steady, calm, and respectful manner.
During a discussion several years ago he taught me something about leading by giving-back. He simply said “If you’re going to take being a leader seriously, you have to give back to the community.” I mentioned that I had made an anonymous donation. He furrowed his brow a bit and said “Don’t do that. People who respect you, won’t know how to follow your lead.” He went on to say that giving provided direction and that a true leader was public about their convictions and gave more than money–gave their time, attention, and support to the community.
Many of the other examples at the table were strikingly similar. They all centered around being a visible example so others can choose to follow.
We then turned our attention to the “how” or the “best methods”. We quickly decided we had answered this and that we were done.
And then it happened. A guy spoke up and said “horse-hockey” (well, he used a different word that I won’t repeat here but will rely instead on this placeholder from MASH’s Col. Potter).
Ok, he had our attention.
He began by saying that we were focusing on the wrong part of the question. Instead of what leadership meant, we should focus on the best methods to get attention. We had, in his opinion, wasted our time on stories and folklore. Rather, he espoused, a leader must focus more on the method to get noticed.
He then asked for show-of-hands on who was on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. Most of us said we were on at least 2 of these (I’m on all except Instagram). He then said that a leader must get their word out. They must tweet several times a day. They must post on the other media at least every week, if not every few days. You have to include hashtags and at-signs in all messages. It’s the only way to get noticed and to advertise. He was adamant and passionate that leaders must focus on using media.
To his amazement, none of us fully disagreed with him. Except on one major, crucial point. That is, a leader who focuses time and effort on publicizing their message at the expense of living it through actions and relationships runs the risk of having fake-followers. We harkened back to the earlier discussion regarding the leader-follower dynamic and the power of influence.
To that point, he shouted “aha”. Yes, leaders are influential. He pointed to the number of followers of famous leaders–Ellen, Kim K, Taylor Swift, Pope Francis, and the president–and the ways they influence others. (I think at this point most of us were just stunned at the lumping of these 5 people.)
I warned not to confuse followers on Twitter with followership. In social media, some follow out of curiosity. Some follow because of likability. Some follow, and this somehow surprised him, to “know the enemy”–in other words, to keep tabs on what the opposition or competition says and does.
Yet, he did have a point to make, which is what I took away from the discussion. That is,
- Leaders influence through actions. They must also find a way to get attention.
- The challenge, though, is not to focus solely on one part of this equation.
- Yes, you have to get attention but once you have it, you better have something people can use and which inspires.
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