Book Club

Social Leaders: Spreading the Fire of Social Business

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SocialEmployee-coverIt’s always fun turning the page on a new year. It gives us a chance to audit the past year, to take stock of what worked, what didn’t and what has run its course. After all, to anticipate what’s to come, we can’t lose sight of what’s already come to pass. In 2014, we spent the year celebrating the dawning social employee revolution. This year, we will celebrate the next phase of that revolution: the rise of the social leader.

The idea of the social leader first made splashes late last year, when The Economist Intelligence Unit (@TheEIU), sponsored by IBM (@IBM), released its list of the Top 25 Social Business Leaders. It was my great pleasure to serve on the advisory board charged with determining the list, each member of which is a true social leader in their own right.

So what is a social leader?

In determining our 25 social leaders, the first task was establishing the proper criteria: Social leaders are visionaries, strategic thinkers, culture shapers, storytellers, adaptive, entrepreneurial and fully social. These concepts are bound to mean different things to different people, but I think the best social leaders succeed because they have a clear idea of what these concepts mean to them, and how they can be used to distinguish themselves in business communities.

But what do these terms mean to me, and why do I think recognizing social leaders is so important? I addressed these questions in greater detail in a discussion with The Economist, but ultimately, I think it comes down to this: For most modern professionals, our career paths are no longer linear. We generally don’t stay with the same company all our lives, nor do we always occupy the same roles. If we are to maintain control of our professional destinies, we must work not only to demonstrate our value, but also to demonstrate our engagement in communities relevant to our fields.

Where we’ve been—and where we’re going

Of course, it’s important to understand that social leadership is a journey. You don’t just decide to become a social leader and transform overnight. By its very nature, social engagement is an ongoing process of knowledge sharing and community building.

Just ask social business guru Tom Peters (@tom_peters), whose concept of “BrandYou” nearly 20 years ago was the blueprint for what we consider social leadership today. Simply put, our behaviors determine how our professional communities see us. By taking control of this narrative, we not only empower ourselves in our own careers, but we also help raise the profile and value of both our coworkers and our parent brand.

This conversation is ongoing, with many others championing Peters’s cause and adding their own insights to the process. And according to Kevin Randall (@KevinBrandall), Vice President, Strategy & Planning at Movéo, and New York Times writer, the release of The Social Employee (McGraw-Hill, 2013), co-written by Mark Burgess (@MNBurgess) and myself, has helped to amplify that message.


(Click here for full Economist article.)

Of course, we couldn’t have helped to spread the fire if Kevin wasn’t there to fan the flames. The insights offered in his stellar afterword for The Social Employee were spot-on, and his continued evangelism on the subject offers a powerful model of what social leadership is all about.

Spreading the fire

So what does the future have in store for social leaders and social employees? Join me, Mark Burgess and Kevin Randall for an IBM Twitter Chat on Thursday, Feb. 12, at 1 p.m., ET. Here are all the details:

Chat: IBM “The Shortlist” Twitter Chat
Topic: The Social Employee
Day/Time: Thursday, Feb. 12, 1 p.m. ET
Moderator: IBM (@IBMSocialBiz)
Panelists: Cheryl Burgess (@CKBurgess), Mark Burgess (@MNBurgess), Kevin Randall (@KevinBrandall)
Hashtag: #socbizchat

We look forward to reading and responding to all your questions and comments. In the meantime, for more tips on how to build social leadership within your organization, watch our video:

Join the conversation

We’d love to hear from you. Here are some ways you can join the conversation:

  • Watch more videos about social leadership on Blue Focus Marketing’s YouTube page.
  • Follow us on Twitter for more updates, chats, and events: Cheryl Burgess: @CKBurgess, Mark Burgess: @MNBurgess, Blue Focus Marketing: @BlueFocus, The Social Employee (@SocialEmployee), Kevin Randall (@KevinBrandall), and IBM (@IBMSocialBiz). You can also follow us at our blog for more news.
  • Follow Tom Peters (@Tom_Peters) on Twitter to learn more about leaders.

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