Something brought social leadership into the spotlight this year. We all know that that ‘something’ was.
But why exactly did Covid-19 make leaders suddenly stand up and take notice of social media?
It’s stating the obvious to say that the challenges for CEOs and business leaders have been huge. They’ve had to think on their feet, firefighting multiple challenges at once. Added to that, they’ve been under the spotlight as never before. They haven’t just had to lead – they’ve had to be seen to be leading.
In the early days of the crisis I read many articles on ‘the dos and don’ts of leading during Covid-19’. The key message was: communicate. Leaders were urged to be open and honest about what was happening, to keep people up to date, to engage a reassure people – to be a source of hope, as Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, said back in March.
And how were they encouraged to do this? Via social media of course. What better way was there to communicate remotely with an often large and varied audience?
The Coronavirus crisis has been, for better or worse, the moment where social leadership came into its own. It was the point when the value of social media as a leadership tool became blindingly obvious.
Sadly, too many CEOs, business owners and other leaders were totally unprepared. Suddenly they were being told to ‘use social media to communicate’, but didn’t have a clue where to start or – more worryingly – how to go about it. What should they say? What if they said the wrong thing?
“The Coronavirus crisis has been, for better or worse, the moment where social leadership came into its own. It was the point when the value of social media as a leadership tool became blindingly obvious”
Some adapted quickly, setting up personal Twitter accounts or upping their game on LinkedIn. Most, however, did nothing and simply relied on their organization’s existing communication teams to get the message out.
The irony is that, long before Coronavirus, Covid-19, lockdown and Zoom became household words, leaders were being urged to ‘get social’. Many of the contributors to my book have been writing, teaching about and practicing social leadership for years.
In her chapter, Michelle Carvill writes: “Communication is personal. There’s an expectation from audiences, both internal and external, to have more direct and open conversations with the people who lead them or who lead the organizations they care about or buy from.”
What the crisis has demonstrated is that Michelle’s message above has never been more relevant or urgent.
Dr Jen Frahm and Jillian Reilly describe a new kind of leadership – ‘exploratory leadership’ – one better suited to unknown futures and more equipped to deal with a crisis. We’ve had adaptive leadership, servant leadership and agile leadership. Now, Frahm and Reilly argue, it’s time for a rethink:
“Every time our external circumstances change and embed as a sustainable change (e.g. not just a blip, spike or something fleeting) we need to adapt as an evolutionary response. We need to step into unknown circumstances and navigate novelty as a way of doing business. We need to adopt an explorer’s mindset.”
Coronavirus came quickly, with little time to prepare. It’s been one of those rare global crises that required an evolutionary response. Leaders had to adjust or sink. We don’t know when the next crisis will come along. It may be just around the corner or 10 years away.
In some ways it’s irrelevant. We need leaders who have the skills, understanding – and mindset – to use social media to maximum effect every day, not just in a crisis.
“We need leaders who have the skills, understanding – and mindset – to use social media to maximum effect every day, not just in a crisis“
Every year the Edelman Trust Barometer is published. Described as ‘the world’s most robust exploration of trust in business, government, NGOs and media, surveying more than 34,000 respondents in 28 markets’, it’s an important bell-weather report for leaders.
One of the most important and consistent findings in the report is the desire from respondents for CEOs to speak out about important societal issues. In the 2020 report (which came out before the Covid-19 crisis) with 92 percentof respondents said they expected CEOs to speak out on important issues. 72 percent also thought CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.
People – employees and the public – expect CEOs and leaders stand up and take the lead. They want them to speak out about issues they care about – not just profits, market share, share price, donations, or whatever other metrics many leaders regard as important. There is a desire for leaders to demonstrate their humanity, to be seen as trustworthy – to be authentic.
If you embrace social media, you can become one of the growing band of connected leaders who are more effective and trusted, crisis or no crisis.
I’ll finish with a quote from Sarah Walker-Smith, CEO of British law firm Shakespeare Martineau, from an interview I did with her earlier this year: “Authenticity, building trust and the need to be able to connect to an increasingly wide range of people and differing mindsets is becoming the heart of a CEO role. This is in part because of social media, but also because of the need for greater direction and hope in an increasingly fast paced and volatile world.”
(Photo credit: Supertramp)