The most powerful leadership lesson I’ve learned

In graduate school I took a class on “Leaders and Leadership” that I hoped would give me respite from the grind of finance and economics. It turned out to be one of the most interesting classes I ever attended and it set me on life-long study of leaders.

When I worked for Alcoa, there was one Group President who seemed to personify the best theoretical aspects of a leader. His name was George Bergeron, since retired to Maine and Florida, but there is not a week that goes by that I don’t think about a small sign he had on his desk:

“Leaders Dispense Hope.”

George was not a rah-rah kind of leader. He walked his talk without gimmicks, inspirational posters or “programs.” In fact, other than a few family pictures, that sign was the only adornment on his desk at all.

Those powerful three words sum up so much to me. To be in a position to “dispense hope,” you need to

  • Be trusted
  • Have a vision that others understand and believe in
  • Be an effective communicator
  • Rise above the every day office noise to deliver the signal
  • Be recognized as the authority
  • Have a real plan, not rhetoric
  • Transcend politics
  • Deliver authentic optimism

Like any executive in a  competitive environment, George had his detractors. But he rose above it all with dignity at every opportunity. No matter what was happening in the world, in the company, or with our customers, George dispensed hope.  A lesson in leadership for a world that needs a few lessons in leadership.

Case study: Why every company needs a social media policy

If your organization is debating the need for a social media policy, you might want to watch this 90-second news story from a Knoxville-area school district.

The news coverage is about a thread on the TV station’s Facebook page and a published comment regarding the suspension of a high school student. It’s a short case study, but one that brings to light key privacy issues and the implications when everybody becomes a publisher.

Facebook has become a way of life for many people who have become de-sensitized about what what they’re sharing.  If you are representing a company or other institution in a public forum, what you are writing may be permanent, search-able, published material with legal consequences.

To be fair to both employees and employers, every organization should have a social media policy — even if there is no formal company social media initiative, as illustrated by this story!

Social Media Overload — Thoughts on Hitting the Wall.

Sometimes it feels like my social media presence is about to fall off a cliff.

Over the past months I’ve shared my journey as I’ve slowly figured things out. How to save time blogging. Build a community. Little tips I’ve learned through trial and error.

But I’ve come to a place that is uncomfortable and frankly, I don’t see a way out. To describe my experience at this point, I’d have to use the word “stressed.”

I can’t keep up with Twitter

… at least not in the same way that I always have … in a way that I have enjoyed and advocated. I am now up to nearly 15,000 followers. And many of them are very active, very engaging followers, too.

For me, the most fun thing about Twitter was engaging with a new follower: seeing where they’re from, what they say about themselves, clicking on their link, assessing if we had anything in common, and imagining ways we could connect — or not. For reasons I can’t totally explain, I’m now getting more than 1,000 new followers each month. I simply don’t have the time to thoughtfully assess and connect with new followers like I used to.

Similarly, the timely, personal engagement I value so much is difficult on this scale … and it’s only going to get worse. The benefits I’ve received from engaging and connecting on Twitter are literally incalculable. I don’t want that to go away.

Keeping the blog going at a high level of quality and engagement/comments  while maintaining a demanding work schedule has sometimes meant 17 hour workdays. My wife is starting to notice.

I used to take pride in closely following every blog (that I knew of) from the {grow} community.  Our readership is doubling every few months.  I can’t keep up with that like I used to either.

A year or so ago I asked a “celebrity” blogger how he handled it all — Blog community, 80,000 Twitter followers, and all the trimmings –  and he said, it’s like being a rockstar on a stage. There might be 20,000 people who want to engage with you but you can only slap the hands of the people who have made it to the front row.

I hated that description but am now starting to see some truth in it.

There have been some half-hearted discussions among the Twitterati with large tribes about dropping their accounts and starting over. That just sounds like a dumb idea.

First, it is incredibly disrespectful to the sincere people who are following you: “What? You’re dropping me because you’re having time management issues?”

Second, why would I want to miss the benefits of the incredible connections I have nurtured? And finally, the audience build-up is just going to start all over again any way, right?

Another strategy is to stop following people back to contain the level of the noise. That is just not me. I’m not here to “broadcast” like Seth Godin or Guy Kawaskai.  I know the true benefit of Twitter is connection. And that is not just social media rhetoric.  I’m living proof of the amazing benefits of this platform if you approach it in a spirit of authentic helpfulness.

The idea for this post came when I was tossing about in bed feeling guilty for not following through promptly with some Twitter friends who had asked for help. I’m not kidding.

My friend (through Twitter!) Dr. Sidney Eve Matrix described it well during our discussion the other day. “Not connecting on Twitter is like being too tired to walk the dog,” she said. “Will the dog survive? Yes. Will you survive? Yes? But you’re still feel going to feel guilty about it because you’re ignoring a responsibility.”

“Responsibility?”

Yes, responsibility.  In my mind there is definitely a responsibility that comes with having a community on the social web.  It’s an honor that you’re here.  I want to do a good job for you. I want to engage with you, if you want to engage with me. I think acknowledging responsibility to your audience is the difference between being a leader on the social web and being a douchebag on the social web.

This is kind of a strange post and I hope this doesn’t come across as whiney.  I know I have been very blessed by this social media community. But as we continue on this journey together, I felt like I needed to truthfully check in to let you know I’ve crossed an invisible line into some new territory and I haven’t figured out.

Will I be able to keep it up?  No.  Not like before.  I just don’t see how.  This road is taking some new turns and the path ahead is foggy. What do you think?   After all, at some point you might be in this position too.  Perhaps you already are?

Are you ready for “The Internet of Things”?

I was introduced to this short video (above) by Jeff Bullas** and thought it was a great companion to the mega-trends post I ran last week which introduced this idea of “The Internet of Things.”

This is fascinating to me.   More and more “objects” — and even the natural world–  is being wired to communicate with us. The Earth is talking to us now.  So is our house, our appliances, and perhaps the road we’re driving on.

There are vast and exciting implications for these developments.  Watch this five-minute video from IBM and then let me know in the comment section how it lands on you …

** If you don’t subscribe to Jeff’s blog, you should go do it … well, right after you comment of course! He is a master storyteller of all things digital and one of my favorite bloggers!

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