Lead, follow or get out of the way

View from the Cold Fire Creek dogsled near Jasper Alberta (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
If you’re not the lead sled dog, the view never changes.
Cold Fire Creek dogsled near Jasper Alberta (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

So there I am, holed up in my house on a Friday evening thanks to bad weather and general ennui, and I see a tweet go by from prolific business book author Tom Peters (remember In Search of Excellence?)

He tweeted this social business question:

“Can you have a ‘social business’ if the CEO doesn’t play? I border on saying/believing ‘No way.’ (And you?)”

My tweet back to him was, “No. Starts at the top.”

Peters responded to me: “We need to refine ‘start.’ Somebody/s, often from a remote/small unit, have got to demo small successes to the big cheese.”

This gave me the mental image of yet another determined junior employee trying to convince an organization’s powers-that-be that social communications (now also available in everyone’s purse or pocket on a mobile device) has completely changed the game….completely changed how people find information, network, provide customer service….on and on.

My question is, why the hell is this not obvious already to ANY organization’s leadership?

Why aren’t the top dogs including the CEO out front leading the way? Isn’t that their cotton-picking job? It’s not as though these seismic changes are so new.

A leader’s job is to be quite the opposite of dumb slow and oblivious.

In my particular corner of the world – tourism and destination marketing – I still hear too often about bosses who “just don’t get it” but worse, don’t even try to get it. Within the last few weeks I met a hotel marketing person whose boss allows her roughly 15 minutes a day for social media on behalf of the hotel.

My guess: that marketing person will ditch that hotel as soon as she can find a position that appreciates her.

Back in 2010 I wrote about brain drain in the travel and tourism industries; people getting fed up about having to work for thick-headed bosses who can’t see the future – heck, the present! – staring them in the face.

We’ve made some progress, but not nearly enough.

If you’re a boss, it’s your job to lead, even when circumstances are scary or confusing (in fact, farsighted leadership is even more critical when things are scary and confusing.) If you don’t understand social media and how it changes things, then set aside your ego, roll up your sleeves and learn.

If you’re an employee, do your best to mentor and educate upwards, but organizations that stubbornly cling to the wrong path in the face of a changing world do not deserve your efforts. Get out.

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4 Responses to Lead, follow or get out of the way

  1. Mike says:

    Would be good to credit Ted Turner with the quote in the headline?

    • Sheila says:

      Hi Mike,

      That was the name of Turner’s 1981 biography, but he didn’t originate the phrase. In fact it’s hard to nail down who actually did say it first. Some say Thomas Paine, others say not. I first saw it on a Big Dogs t-shirt, actually. 🙂

  2. Corp. leaders seem to me to a be similar to elected politicians – a diverse set of constituencies that need to be satisfied, with the result being that there are more things that should be ‘championed’ than time within which to do it.

    I am not sure that things starting from the top is required. It is often the case that if you ‘fly under the radar’ long enough you can build momentum that is difficult to then stop, with the result being ‘oops, we made the company / our unit / our department social’ – a fait accompli.
    david k waltz´s last [post] ..A Blogful of Thanks – 2013

    • Sheila says:

      Thanks for your comment, David. It’s absolutely true that leaders have many factions to answer to, but they are paid to move decisively in the face of change. Too many don’t, so an organization’s insurgents have to do it (or they quit in disgust.) That doesn’t make sense to me.

      For more on social business, I follow Sidera Works: http://www.sideraworks.com/

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