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Book Review: Open Leadership by Charlene Li

A little over a year ago we started the Weekly Leader podcast in an effort to explore the ever rich topic of leadership. One area that has fascinated us, and which is a staple of interviews with our amazing guests, is how new technology and social media are changing the way we communicate, relate, manage and lead. I believe that we are currently in a watershed moment for leadership that is in large part driven by these new “open” tools.

So when I saw that Charlene Li, founder of The Altimeter Group and co-author of the business bestseller Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, was writing a book on this subject, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.  After 2 evenings of pretty solid reading, I am happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (Kindle edition) is an important leadership book.

Ms. Li, a Harvard MBA and former vice president and analyst at Forrester, founded the Altimeter Group in June 2008. From their website:

Altimeter Group provides thought leadership, research, and advisory on digital strategies, with a core focus on how companies can leverage disruptive technologies.

The firm’s clients include some of the largest brands in the world which gives the author incredible access to CEOs and other organizational leaders.

The book is organized into three parts (I. The Upside of Giving Up Control; II. Crafting Your Open Strategy and III. Open Leadership: Redefining Relationships) with each containing a good mix of theory and stories/case studies to build the argument about the benefits of open leadership.   Additionally, at the end of each chapter there are audits, tests and action plans that will help the reader figure out where she lies on the continuum of open leadership and what direction she might focus her energy next. Finally,  there is a companion website with additional useful resources.

Li defines open leadership “as having the confidence and humilty to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.” Like so many definitions of leadership it sounds easy, but it’s not necessarily. The author combines recognized leadership theories (Kouzes, Collins, Bennis) with her experience and research to lay out a program that will help all leaders be more “open.”   She doesn’t offer a single rigid model but rather gives options to fit a diversity of leadership styles.  The key to success is answering “what are you trying to accomplish?” around four business objectives: learn, dialog, support and innovate. Using this as a guide, she has suggestions to get even the most curmudgeonly employee to lead more openly. If you follow leadership in the social media sphere, most of the material will not be new to you; however, the real benefit of Open Leadership is the framework it establishes for you and your organization to exercise open leadership more effectively.

I had the opportunity earlier today to interview the author for the Weekly Leader podcast (episode 52) so if you are interested in learning more about the book, Ms. Li as a leader or what the Altimeter Group can do for your organization, make sure you listen. While you’re at it, please consider subscribing to the Weekly Leader podcast via iTunes so you never miss an episode.

There should be a dog-eared copy of Open Leadership on every leaders bookshelf.

Ms. Li recently offered a webinar series on Open Leadership; here’s one of the videos.

Making The Case For Open Leadership from Altimeter Group on Vimeo.

“Be Open, Be Transparent, Be Authentic” are the current leadership mantras-but companies often push back. Business is premised on the concept of control and yet the new world order demands openness-leaders do not know how to be open and be in control.

This Webinar is the first in a four-part series centered on the ideas in the new book, “Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead” by Charlene Li, the best-selling co-author of “Groundswell”.

This Webinar covers the following:

– How social technologies are creating the need for new type of leadership.

– What it means to be open.

– How to measure openness.

– Case studies of open leadership

About the author

Peter A. Mello, Founder/Editor Founder of Weekly Leader and Sea-Fever Consulting, LLC, a leadership development and strategic communications consultancy. Previously, CEO of an international nonprofit organization and COO of a national insurance/risk management services firm. Peter has been leading people and managing organizations for over 30 years, writes a leadership column for MarineNews magazine and blogs about maritime culture at Sea-Fever. Follow him on Twitter.

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Posted in Books.