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I am surprised, frankly, that Charlene Li includes no references to Henry Chesbrough who is generally credited with introducing and developing the concept of "openness," notably in his books Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology (2003) and Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape (2006), both published by Harvard Business Press. According to Chesbrough, "Let's be clear about what is meant by the term business model. In essence, a business model performs two important functions: It creates value, and it captures a portion of that value. The first function requires the defining of a series of activities (from raw materials through to the final customer) that will yield a new product or service, with value being added throughout the various activities. The second function requires the establishing of a unique resource, asset or position within that series of activities in which the firm enjoys a competitive advantage.

"Open business models enable an organization to be more effective in creating as well as capturing value. They help create value by leveraging many more ideas because of their inclusion of a variety of external concepts. They also allow greater value capture by utilizing a firm's key asset, resource or position not only in that organization's own operations but also in other companies' businesses."

The success of any business model (open or otherwise) depends on effective leadership and that is especially true of the open business model whose leadership - like the model itself - must demonstrate greater transparency and authenticity, especially in the face of social technology adoption. As Li correctly observes, "Being open should be not a mantra or philosophy, but a considered, rigorous approach to strategy and leadership that yields real results. This is not about total transparency and complete openness...Such an unrealistic extreme of complete openness is untenable if a business is to sustain its competitive advantage and ability to execute."

Li goes on to explain, "the question isn't whether you will be transparent, authentic, and real, but rather, how much you will let go and be open in the face of new technologies. Transparency, authenticity, and the sense of that you are being real are the by-products of your decision to be open." In essence, both Chesbrough and Li are describing a mind-set, a way of seeing both what is and what could be, and a temperament that embraces collaboration based on mutually beneficial values and objectives, following adoption and utilization of social technologies that expedite communication and cooperation between and among those involved.

I was especially interested in the material provided in Part III (Chapters 7-10), "Open Leadership: Redefining Relationships," in which Li focuses on the dominant characteristics of an Open Leader. They include

1. An insatiable curiosity about what can be learned from both internal and external sources that will help the given organization to achieve its strategic objectives; receptive ("open") to new and preferably better ideas, different perspectives, and prudent experimentation with acceptable risk as well as a passion lifelong learning.

2. Highly developed integrative thinking: in Roger Martin's words, the ability to "face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension [whatever its causes may be] in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each."

3. An optimistic mind-set based on a belief that (in Li's words) "most people want to do their best and want to be responsible, trustworthy, and honest - they have a high level of trust in people and extend that trust to a wider circle of people than their pessimistic counterparts. Optimists feel that, given the right opportunity, most people will grow in confidence, in ability, and in their own sense of self-worth."

4. Highly developed emotional intelligence in what Daniel Goleman suggests are "the four domains of ability: self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and interpersonal skill." Such leaders are "open" to their own emotions but also to the emotions of those with whom they are associated.

5. A preference for cross-functional collaboration as well as an appreciation of "creative confrontation" and principled dissent that produce better results than would otherwise be possible.

One of the Open Leader's greatest challenges is to help "grow" other Open Leaders. They do so by active involvement in the hiring process and orientation process, but mentoring high-potentials, and perhaps most important of all, setting an example that demonstrates all of the attributes previously listed. As both Chesbrough and Li correctly suggest, "open" leadership is needed to achieve and then sustain an "open" workplace, one that nourishes a culture of candor and transparency.

I also highly recommend Michael Ray's The Highest Goal, David Maister's Practice What You Preach, and Tony Schwartz's The Way We're Working Isn't Working.
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on February 2, 2011
This is not an easy read. If you have professional experience leading a Social Media or Web strategy you will be completely engrossed. And likely wishing you had been able to get your hands on it two years' prior to it's release. And anyone who has been responsible for a significant change management effort, be it in Human Resources, Communications, Finance or IS/IT will also get it.

Even so, there are some concepts that may be tough sell to the C-Suite. And to do what Li proposes, you won't get anywhere without knowing how to present "open leadership" to the various executives that may be involved in your organization's cultural transformation.

So you won't want to introduce language like "the ever-widening gap on the 'openness' continuum between where organizations are today and where social trends are leading."

Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead was inspired by an '"Ah ha!"' moment Li had when promoting Groundswell, the 2008 best-seller she co-wrote with Josh Bernhoff, SVP, Idea Development at Forrester Research.

Time and time again, skittish leaders would ask Li 'How open do I have to be?'

In an interview I did with Li last November, she said that reaction led her to realize that, "the fundamental reason people are still uncomfortable taking on social technologies has nothing to do with the technologies and everything to do with the new type of relationships they have to form. In the sense that if I enter into a relationship, I give up power and lose control. That's what a relationship is. And in many ways, that's what leadership is."

Most of what Li proposes is based on tried and true business, marketing and leadership tenets. She doesn't claim otherwise. Nor does the book explore social technology in detail. I tend to classify the book under social science.

But, just like Groundswell, it's a trailblazer. For once, a book targeted those of us who represent the crossing point best represented by the Web Strategist role Jeremiah Owyang introduced a few years back. We Web, now Social (Media) Strategists have competencies that defy the black and white definitions often used as defense mechanisms to box us in - and to discredit us.

In fact, one of my favorite quotes is credited to Owyang. Li writes, "(Jeremiah) Owyang encourages organizations to hire people with what he calls 'scar tissue,' people who have been in the trenches of social media and have experiences the ups and downs. Because every time you put yourself out there, expose yourself, you become vulnerable, and it's a leap of faith that your network and community will be there to cushion the fall."

Charlene Li defines open leadership as 'having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals."

Here's the sticking point for a lot of organizations: This mindset is completely counterintuitive to what the know and been taught.

Taking on open leadership takes work - even more rigor and discipline than before. And it's not right every organization.

New relationships require new rules Li says, including:
- Respect that your customers and employees have power.
- Share constantly to build trust.
- Nurture curiosity and humility.
- Hold openness accountable
- Forgive failure

Wouldn't that be greaaat. Sigh.

I would like to think open leadership will become the norm in my lifetime, but suspect that like Corporate Social Responsibility, adaptors will be motivated by money or industry pressure than genuine concern or goodwill.

In the interim, Li provides two excellent resources to help leaders navigate the political landscape and learn more about where they can develop skills to become better leaders: The Sandbox Covenant and The Four Archetypes: The Realist Optimist, The Worried Skeptic, The Cautious Tester and The Transparent Evangelist.

When reading the book, have fun determining what role you (and your colleagues) occupy in your organization - and which leadership skills need work.

I wrote a more detailed review on my blog, address is my first and last name. I also have a post on my favorite quotes and passages. My interview with Charlene Li is also live. Please stop by. I would like to exchange with others who have read Groundswell and Open Leadership.
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