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Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead Hardcover – May 24 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (May 24 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470597267
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470597262
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 2.9 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #347,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


shows leaders how to tap into the power of the social technology revolution. (Publicnet.co.uk, April 2011).

From the Inside Flap

"Be Open, Be Transparent, Be Authentic" are the current leadership mantras—but companies often push back. Traditionally, business is premised on the concept of control and yet the new world order demands openness.

In Open Leadership Charlene Li (the coauthor of the blockbusting bestseller Groundswell) offers the next step resource that shows leaders how to tap into the power of the social technology revolution and use social media to be "open" while maintaining control. This important book explains how Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yammer, Jive, and other popular social media sites can improve efficiency, communication, and decision making for leaders and their organizations.

As Li explains, openness requires more—not less—rigor and effort than being in control. Open Leadership reveals step-by-step, with illustrative case studies and examples from a wide range of industries and countries, how to bring the precision of this new openness both inside and outside the organization. The author includes suggestions that will help an organization determine an open strategy, weigh the benefits against the risk, and have a clear understanding of the implications of being open. The book also contains guidelines, policies, and procedures that successful companies have implemented to manage openness and ensure that business objectives are at the center of their openness strategy.

By embracing social media, leaders can transform their organizations to become more effective, decisive, and ultimately more profitable in this new era of openness in the marketplace.

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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa3ae97ec) out of 5 stars 36 reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa3b34dbc) out of 5 stars More about social technology than about leadership June 13 2010
By Mark P. McDonald - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Charlene Li is one of the authors of Groundswell and that book helped set the stage for business use of social technologies. In Open Leadership, Li breaks away from her co-authors providing a discussion and examination of the social technology's impact on the enterprise in more detail. She enters a crowded world of recent social technology based books and adds value to the social technology conversation and less to the leadership conversation.

Overall this is a good book providing a starting point for people looking to understand what social technology is and what it may mean for the enterprise. However, the state of social technology has moved beyond naming names and describing solutions to understanding the tough decisions and executing plans to realize value in the enterprise. Li tries to take on these issues, but falls short, keeping this from being a great book. This is a four star social technology book and a two and a half star leadership book.

Open Leadership has more to say about social technology than a leadership or management. It spends most of its pages talking about social technologies and its implementations. The leadership aspects to this book are not unique to social technologies You can see this in terms of her new rules for open leadership

1. Respect that your customers and employees have power
2. Share constantly to build trust
3. Nurture curiosity and humility
4. Hold openness accountable
5. Forgive failure

These rules are important, but they are not unique to social technology. In fact similar rules have been the subject of management books for the last 15 years. It is not that these are wrong, or bad advice, but these are things that students of management and leadership already know.

I was looking for how one would use social technology to create open leadership and less about how social technology requires open leadership. Leaders should read this book, but more to get a sense of what others are doing, or can do with social technology than to see how their job and role changes in the enterprise.


The book is comprehensive covering a range of topics and questions. Li covers a wide swath of ground in social technology and the enterprise.

The book positions its discussion in multiple frameworks and classifications ranging from rules for open leadership, to types of leaders, to assessments and action plans. These are helpful to understand the issues and to coalesce the thinking described in the book.

The use of company examples and descriptions provide real life examples, which is good. The examples are from multiple industries, which is another plus. The case examples descriptive but do not provide sufficient depth for the reader to understand the issues they faced, the alternatives available and the reasons why they chose a particular course of action. Leaders need that depth of analysis as Li's recommendations seek to change their deeply held behaviors.

The book mentions a wide array of social technology solution providers, providing a market scan of what people are using and some of the benefits they are getting. This is helpful for right now, but the long-term value of these names will diminish over time.


This book describes a first generation approach where companies use social technology as an overlay or channel for their existing marketing, sales and support activities. These first generation solutions are powerful and important, but they also do not fundamentally challenge what it means to be a leader or a manager - in large part because the solutions described do not change the fundamentals of the enterprise.

The tools in the book are understandable, straightforward and applicable to a broad audience. This is good but it can leave corporate executives with the impression that they are trivial for their situation. I know that the book has case examples from CISCO, Ford, Best Buy and others, but when you go to use the advice you use the tools not the stories. The business cases examples illustrate this point. They are hypothetical and in some cases double count benefits. They illustrate terrific returns on investment in percentage terms, but they do not show the tens of millions of dollars in benefits that would lead executives to consider changing their approaches.

The book distills leadership and management issues down into a set of policy upgrades that Li calls "sandbox covenants." It is a catchy idea and policy changes are important, but Li does not address leadership issues of organizational structure, business process, performance measurement, among others to make this a book about leadership. Omission of these leadership issues further reflects the use of social media at it inception as an overlay and channel rather than a deep force requiring reform and change across the enterprise.

The book's multiple frameworks, recommendations and chapter structure do not fit together as well as they could. It is as if Li is unsure of which argument to advance so the author provides multiple ones. Examples of this include the five rules and the overall chapter structure - they are similar in some areas but not in others. The major themes form the case studies in the last chapter do not connect to the rules, or the other aspects of the book. This is understandable given the breadth the author is trying to cover, but it detracts from the impact of the book as its always telling me new things that are loosely related with the old.


You may think that I dislike this book. I don't.

It's a good book and one that you will benefit from reading. But, this is much more of a book about social technology than about leadership and management. If in this review, your feel that I have been too critical, then please accept my apology as it is not my intent to do so. Given the exploding number of books out on social technology and the limited reading time we all have, I thought that it would be better to be clear about this book's content and strengths which fall more in the area of social technology than leadership or management.

If you are new to social technology, I recommend this book over Groundswell, as the state of the art has advanced and this book provides a good overview of where people stand in terms of social technology. It is a four star book in terms of social technology.

If you are a student of social technology, then you can read this book to learn more, but do not expect to learn a great deal more about changes in leadership or management. It is a two and half star book about leadership.

If you are a manager looking to learn more about social technology, how it changes your job etc. Then you can read this book as well, but know its limitations.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa3b3909c) out of 5 stars Open Leadership will be one of your reference books May 24 2010
By Marylene Delbourg-Delphis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In the eighties, IT folks and executives had qualms about providing desktop computers to their employees - the idea of empowering them boiled down to relinquishing command and control. Yet, the world didn't stop turning. The accelerated rise of social media poses a similar problem, albeit much larger by an order of magnitude, because this time employees and customers didn't ask anybody for the permission to show their power. So, either you try to fight it (with virtually no chance of winning), or you realize that you too can leverage social media, understand what Open leadership is about, and "how social technology can transform the way you lead," in just the same way people understood how social media technology would enable them to stand up in your face.

The book "is about how leaders must let go to gain more," "open leadership" being defined as "having the confidence and the humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals." The task is not easy, and Charlene is well aware that calls from various management experts for leaders to remodel their management styles for the last fifty years "have gone largely unanswered." Why does she feel she can succeed while so many have been preaching in the desert?

I see two main reasons why this book has a much higher chance of impact.

1) The context: "Giving up control is inevitable."
While many books on management have characterized the traits and mindset of open leaders along similar lines as Charlene does throughout her book, the reasons for people to change are structurally different. For the last fifty years, these reasons had somewhat of a normative undertone, ranging from becoming a more charismatic person to preparing for an undefined future. Today, the future is here, and command and control executives had better move quickly because the world where sharing, relationships, conversations, and higher levels of transparency are becoming prominent paradigms, is slipping under their feet. In short, addressing self-preservation instincts in people could be more efficient than exhorting them to greatness.

2) A measured and pragmatic approach: Open leadership through "Open-driven objectives"
No matter how convinced one may be that social media technologies will revolutionize the planet, each business is local, with its own spots of both inertia and vitality. One of the best aspects of the book is the clear acknowledgment that there are many degrees between open-door and closed-door leadership policies. This is often a fairly natural stand for a consultant to take, but harder to express positively in a book. Charlene remarkably sidesteps the problem by offering relevant examples, looking at the scope of benefits from the point of view of the various stakeholders, and establishing the checklist of any open strategy. While expounding on a correlation (although not a causality) between deep, broad engagement and financial performance, and presenting a compelling case for "new metrics for new relationships" instead compartmentalized ROI calculations, she is well aware that "each company will have a different sized sandbox, depending on how open it wants to be," and proposes tailored and incremental approaches accordingly. But listen: "if companies like Johnson & Johnson and Wells Fargo, who are in highly regulated industries, can have an open engagement with their audiences, you can too."

So, don't wait to break a guitar to wake up!
It is obvious that openness transforms organizations, and multiple success stories attest to that. Yet, "the new rules of relationship created by the advent of social technologies require that you develop new skills and behaviors that accentuate and support your own individual leadership style." Change can't happen overnight, so there is nothing wrong with having "start small" as a mantra, and making a few mistakes. But start! Open-mindedness is the first step to open leadership, anyway.
32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa3b392dc) out of 5 stars Leadership + Social: A good read May 18 2010
By Joshua D. Bernoff - Bestselling Author - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Disclosure first: Charlene Li was my coauthor on Groundswell and my company now competes with hers.

I was impressed with this book. Charlene starts out with this thesis:

Open leadership is having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.

This is not just a paean to openness. First of all, Charlene makes the case that social technology gives customers and employees access to all sorts of power and information now, and more openness is the only response. And second, the book includes tools to help you, for example, assess your own level of openness and what your organization can tolerate.

I found some parts of the book a lot more useful or interesting than others. Here are three good parts.

1. Sandbox covenants. These are the rules organizations set up to determine what sorts of limits and conventions there are on openness. The book includes a link to social media policies of a bunch of corporations, not yet live, but I am looking forward to seeing that. This discussion, in Chapter 5, goes a long way to helping bridge the gap between social media backers within companies and corporate policymakers.

2. Organizational models for openness. Charlene describes three types of organization: organic, centralized, and coordinated, and shows when each one makes sense. Given all the questions I get these days about organization for social, this is quite relevant.

3. Leadership mindsets and traits. Chapter 7 classifies leaders according to whether they are optimistic or pessimistic, and whether they are independent or collaborative. Anyone who has ever had a boss will find this instructive. This is a fascinating way to look at leadership.

I did not love everything about this book. The biggest question in my mind is, who is the audience? CEOs can benefit, and there are leaders throughout organizations, but the challenge is for the millions of workers in the trenches in management, customer service, and elsewhere in companies. Transforming an organization to become more open is a huge task, and there is a lot here about what companies should do, but not enough about how to get there and how ordinary employees can participate.

I also experienced some confusion around the central idea of the book. If you are a social technology strategist or participant, this will read a lot like a book on social technology -- a sequel to Groundswell. At a recent event, I asked Charlene about how social relates to open, and she clarified that social creates the need to be open. But the book slips back and forth between the two concepts of social and openness without enough explicit attention to this difference.

If you are a social media wiz (that is, if you've already read Groundswell), you'll find the four objectives described here awfully similar to the the five objectives in Groundswell, and the concept of "socialgraphics" highly parallel to our Social Technographics. There are new cases studies in the sections on social technology, but some will seem very familiar to people who've been paying attention to the social world in the last two years.

In person and in this book, Charlene is one of the most upbeat and optimistic people I know. This is quite a contrast to the dark and sardonic side that I personally have, and the dynamic between those two poles made Groundswell better. Open Leadership is a relentlessly optimistic book for the most part. Even so, my favorite part was the chapter on failure, and how to embrace it and learn from it. Stories about failure inspire me. These were the best case studies in the book.

If you are a leader interested in how social technology affects your business, buy this book.

(In case you are wondering what is happening with Charlene's co-author, stay tuned -- my own book on the topic of how to run your company in the social era, Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business, is due out in September.)
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa3b39558) out of 5 stars Open Leadership May 16 2010
By Raul Colon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I would recommend this book to anybody involved at all stages of creating, implementing, and monitoring Social Media efforts.

I was one of the privileged people to get an Advanced Copy from Charlene Li.

I had listened to the Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies Audio Book (which I got as a Gift from a Good Friend who I met via Social Media) and was intrigued by the content and the ideas presented in her previous book. For this reason I started following her on Twitter where I got the opportunity to request an advanced Copy of Open Leadership.

I am half way through the book and I have already been able to use her ideas and guidelines to explain to some of my clients who are running social media efforts, how important it is to be an Open company.

Being an IT Governance and IT Auditor involved in Social Media, I can see the benefits of Charlene's message regarding the "Importance of Social Media Guidelines".

Open Leadership also includes guidelines on various subjects to get any organization off the ground with adequate best practices in approaching Social Media.
I think the title fits well with her approach and it differs from other authors writing about the subject. I can say that she follows and executes in what she preaches.

I have written two postings related to the book and my opinion Feel Free to visit the links.
* Social Media Relationships Land Me 2 Great Books - [...]
* Importance of Corporate Social Media Guidelines - [...]
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa3b3984c) out of 5 stars A Pastor's Review of Open Leadership May 22 2010
By Bruce Reyes-Chow - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Probably wouldn't do much good to simply say, "Go get it right now!" but really that is what I want to say. After writing Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies with Josh Bernhoff, Charlene Li offers up a thoughtful book that helps folks to navigating all of this social technology hubbub, this time from the perspective of leadership.

Open Leadership is a nuanced, yet practical guide for those who believe that the world is open source, flat, fluid, etc. and now want to thrive in the midst of it. This book is for those who want to lead that. While she does a good job of justifying some of the reason why the world and the business sector, in particular, must adapt to an open posture, my guess is that this will really only jive if you already believe this is so.

Before I get into some of the specifics about the book, let me also say that I am reading and reviewing this through the lens of a pastor that has fully embraced this open world and trying to figure out how much of the business language can translate into church life. As I read this book, especially the - ahem, Inviting Customers Into a Covenant section (p122) - I had VERY little trouble translating this into my religious context. While non-profits and churches do not have a financial bottom line that is the driving force, we do want to lead well and in a way that is attuned with elements of culture and technology that are important. So, if you are church person, please do not dismiss this book because it is for the business community. That would just be silly ;-)

The major assumption that Li makes is that the world is open and everyone needs to figure out how he/she will lead their organization. Couple that with social technologies and any power that we think we may have to direct and control as we have in the past is kaput. And in her words - . . . unless you are Apple and a combination of brilliant engineers and designers, a charismatic CEO, and a brand that everybody loves, openness be damned! - otherwise, we best all get on the Open Leadership train.

Like any good book on systems and leadership there are some profound nuggets sprinkled through out. Honestly, the whole book is quote worthy and my copy is littered with post-it flags to the point that they really are very useful for figuring out what to include in this review.

Still if I had to choose a few great chapters, I would start with Chapter 2, The Ten Elements of Openness" that gives a good breakdown in how she would define "openness" in regards to both "Information Sharing" and "Decision Making." I also really appreciated Chapter 5 on setting up "Covenants" of behavior when it comes to social technologies within an organization as well as with clients/customers. Also how she talks about "transparency" versus "visibility" were profound in Chapter 8, Nurturing Open Leadership.

There were, of course a few gems that I think are really worth noting:

On the need for leadership to give up control . . .

The reason to get proactive about giving up control is that by doing so you can actually regain some semblance of control. IT seems counterintuitive, but the act of engaging with people, of accepting that they have power, can actually put you in a position o counter negative behavior. In fact, it's the only chance you have of being able to influence the outcome. (p9)

On sticking to old leadership models in the face of the effects of social technologies on businesses:

All of this leads to a critical juncture in leadership. Yet many of the executives I speak with refuse to acknowledge that any change is needed; they believe that in times of crisis and change, greater leadership from the top is needed. Thus they insist on sticking with their traditional command-and-control leadership styles of limited information sharing and decision making.

I wish them luck, because they will need, it. (p164)

And finally I actually laughed out loud when I read the following dialog (pp51-52) because I have had these VERY conversations about social media and social technology with church leadership. As you read through this simple substitute your favorite church staff person during a conversation on worship, outreach or whatever.

Chief Marketing Officer: We need to get close to our customers - be more transparent with them. Why don't we start a blog and get on Twitter?

VP Customer Service: That's not going to work. All we'll get are complaints from irate customers. We can't win in that kind of situation.

VP Production Development: But we need to get feedback on what our customers like and don't like - otherwise we'll never create products better than our competitors'.

Director of Sales: Our competitors will be able to exploit areas where our customers are unhappy, the'll swoop in to steal the sale.

CMO: Better we find out directly. We should have a place on our Web site where customers can review our products so we know what's broken and what needs to be fixed.

CEO: But having those negative reviews on our own site will kill sales.

VP-PD: Other companies like us are doing this. Dell, for example.

CEO: We're not Dell.

And there are plenty more wonderful moments in this book.

Now some of what Li offers are things that we have heard before, Chapter 9, The Failure Imperative, for instance, but in the context of an open leadership style failure as part of the process seems to make more sense that, the "just know you are going to fail and learn from those times." words that are often given. I am also a little iffy on the whole Open Leadership Self-Assessment, p180, but I think, taken lightly yet honestly, could be really helpful to gauge where one is amidst all of the open leadership talk.

So there you have it, my two cents. Hope it has been helpful.