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Charlene Li of Altimeter Group shares insights on Open Leadership with SNCR audience

charlene-li-open-leadership-coverLast month, Charlene Li, acclaimed co-author Groundswell and founder of Altimeter Group, hosted a webinar for the members of the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), discussing the concept of “open leadership,” which is also the topic of her new book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform How You Lead.

What is open leadership?

Charlene describes open leadership as a way for leaders of corporations and organizations to harness the power of social technologies by becoming more “open” — transparent, less controlling, more engaging, authentic — in order to succeed. With the advent of social sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, corporate leaders know they must participate in this space, but feel a threatening sense that they are opening a can of worms by giving up control of their tried and true forms of communications.

“Open leadership is about having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control, while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals,” said Charlene during her presentation.

But, as Charlene pointed out, giving up control requires more – not less – effort than maintaining control. Before entering the social media world without a map and a guidebook, planning should take place to create a path instead of haphazardly roaming the woods. Developing an open strategy involves a four-step process: Learn, Dialog, Support and Innovate.


Learning involves finding out what your clients are trying to do, who they are, how and where they spend their time, and how they are being influenced.

“You can’t message your way of it,” said Charlene. “That’s what BP is trying to do. They’re not thinking about the kinds of relationships people want with them.”

The amount of negative publicity that BP is getting due to the massive oil spill in the Gulf Coast is mind-boggling. But, according to Charlene, there are people who want to know how they can help in the clean-up process but don’t know how. She said if BP turned their perspective around and used social media to address those questions, they might be able to at least offset some of the bad press.


Having a conversation is the essence of social media. And because of its power, the people that are talking to each other are sometimes unlikely conversation partners. Charlene used the example of Edelman PR’s blog that is written by the CEO himself, Richard Edelman. He has identified this form of interaction as a unique opportunity to interact with people that he previously did not have access to, get his point of view across and solicit feedback from them, and connect with clients and employees more deeply and meaningfully.


Social technologies can also be a form of support for customers in industries where there is a consistent flow of troubleshooting. But, R&D teams can use this avenue to solicit feedback from their social community. According to Charlene, Solarwinds uses their network for call deflection and product development and has even established rich relationships within their investment community.

Innovation, an innovative approach to engage Starbucks enthusiasts as a way for them to actively participate in making the brand and product they love even better. One example she cited was an idea to incorporate an automatic ordering system via card swipe. The suggestion got a lot of buzz and generated a lot of excitement, particularly since the folks at Starbucks were actually looking into the possibility. Unfortunately, for whatever logistical or technical reason, it was not do-able. Although disappointed, the customers following the process were happy to be part of it.

To find out more about her book, please visit Charlene’s website.  You can also see presentation slides on her Facebook page.

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