The Four Capabilities of a Social leader

Senior executives need new mindsets and new capabilities to be effective in the networked work of the future. Four capabilities will help e executives make the most of their networks:

Personal Knowledge Management: Personal Knowledge Management gives executives the personal learning skills to manage the flow of information and to deepen their personal networks. As executives personally learn to Seek>Sense>Share they develop critical digital skills for network leadership.

Working Out Loud: Working out loud is a practice that helps surface the value of work and learning in networks. Leaders are already the focus of attention. Making their work in progress visible to others is a highly valuable step because it accelerates trust and learning.

Leading in Networks: Network leadership requires leaders to surface shared purpose, build trust and influence and enable collaboration. Expertise, rank and orders are replaced with adaptive leadership techniques that manage learning, tension & alignment.

Creating Value in Networks: Leaders need to be able to set a strategy for their and their team’s engagement with networks. They need to be able to accelerate the maturity of value creation in those networks as they develop through Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate.

Developing leader’s practice of these key capabilities will enhance their effectiveness in enterprise social networks and the future of work.

The Emperor’s New Clothes


“By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co- exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.” – Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless

What exactly is the power in your company’s hierarchy?

A Culture of Consent

Debates over structure, governance and power dominate management. We want to get the right balance between command and autonomy as if this is a formula that can be designed externally and imposed. The realities of power in organisations are simpler than we perceive.  

An organisation is not a state. Despite their orders, minions, wealth and luxurious surrounds, senior managers are not rulers. There is no army, no police force and no jail. Shareholders are not voters to provide legitimacy to coercion. Security guards have limits on their ability to apply force and is rarely constructive. Coercive power is in organisations is rather like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Senior managers know this well because daily they experience the limits of their ability to order.

Organisations have one form of power – exclusion through exile or ostracism. Senior management have security guards to escort you from the building.  Management can encourage others to turn on you. They can deprive you of this source of income and relationships in a community of peers, but have no other power. Look closely, they probably can’t even deprive you of resources, as these are usually under the day-to-day management of your peers. You already work around that issue daily as you make your organisation’s budgeting work.

All the power of the hierarchical leaders of organisations is given to them by the culture within the organisation. It is social influence, not power backed by force. Like the greengrocer in Vaclav Havel’s example above, you either live within that culture (and sustain its power) or you don’t (and become a dissident or rebel).

If the Emperor of Management has no clothes..

  • Change is closer than you think. Start to create new influence or question the sources and approaches of power and you are already leading change, potentially far more quickly than you realise.
  • Management are not a blocker outside the system preventing change. They are a part of the same system and equally aware of its issues. Encourage them to adapt management practice through conversations about influence, culture and the practices of power.
  • Network with like minded peers discuss and debate what needs to change. How should influence be structured in your organisation?
  • Culture is not a project just for the HR team. The consequences of the real cultural norms are far wider and far more important than a poster of values. Culture will shape what the organisation perceives and how it is able to respond.
  • Living in reality and being more human is harder than you think. First, you must separate reality from the views that you have chosen to believe. Second, you must continue to engage with the reality of the situation without the warm support of culture.
  • The future models of power in your organisation are a discussion for the community. Adopting elaborate models of autonomy and decision making without this discussion is swapping one naked emperor for another. If you adopting a new model, what is it about this model that makes it closer to the reality of influence in your organisation?
  • The ability to survive and restart reduces the threat of management power. That means a sense of personal purpose, savings of six to twelve months of living expenses, marketable capabilities and good external networks. Removing the danger from exile and strengthening purpose against ostracism frees the rebel to lead change.

“For the real question is whether the brighter future is really always so distant. What if it has been here for a long time already and only our own blindness and weakness and has prevented us from seeing it around and within us and prevented us from developing it?” – Vaclav Havel

Empower the Audience

The traditional panel has real limits.  Experiments are required for new formats to address disruptive, adaptive and emergent issues.

Yesterday at Disrupt.SydneyBen Gilchriest, Mani Thiru and I ran an experiment with an Anti-Panel.

Why hold an Anti-Panel?

The traditional panel format is broken when the questions being considered are adaptive, complex or emergent.  A traditional panel can be:

  • Disengaging:  The panel supposedly has all the power, expertise and knowledge.  They deign to answer questions from a large group of supplicants.  The audience sits, listens and watches.   A facilitator often shapes the whole event and dominates the discussion. One person speaks at a time.  The tendency is for people to seek to hold everyone’s attention.
  • Lacking collaboration:  Panellist may or may not build on others’ views.  Debates rarely occur or get explored.  The audience has little chance to collaborate with the panel or each other.
  • Lacking diversity:  Only panellists views get heard. Questions are rationed.  Questioning may be intimidating in a large group. Group think can occur with few views on offer. Panels are often very chosen from a limited demographic of expertise.
  • Narrow in contributions: Discussion is limited to verbal questions and answers.  Other forms of interaction are limited and usually very formal.  Feelings and intuition is disdained.  Shallow, concise and entertaining answers dominate discussion.
  • Focused on a correct answer: Panels are heavily dependant on technical expertise.  There is no room for creativity or experimentation.  Reflection time is not available to any participants
  • Linear:  Panels are always ‘moving on in the interest of time’.  Iteration is limited. 
In line with the spirit of Disrupt.Sydney we set out to disrupt the panel model with something more connected, more collaborative, more adaptive and more open to diverse contributions.

How do you hold an Anti-Panel?

The first change is to make the anti-panellists servants of the conversation.  Instead of an audience, there is a room full of participants working together.  The role of anti-panellists is to facilitate the participants to discuss the issues.

Then you need to open up the format.  We used a structure which ran from the personal to the group, explored a number of contributions (visual, emotional, allowed for movement in the room, etc) and iterated the discussion across:

  • opening: to set a common context, understanding and a little role modelling by the anti-panellists of the openness, flexibility and informality of the approach.
  • individual reflection by the anti-panel & other participants to draw what they found significant.  This used drawing to engage another perspective of reflection and to speed later sharing.
  • small group sharing and discussion of the drawings to draw connections & similarities, explore doubts, questions and differences.  
  • a full room discussion of insights, lessons, actions, new thoughts and other connections.  Explicitly in this conversation we asked and encouraged questions to introduce a discussion of feelings and concerns to explore and to widen the conversation to include domains that had not yet been discussed.
  • closing reflections from the panel of any points of synthesis or intuitions that they have drawn and an open invitation for the participants to share their insights.

I suspect each anti-panel would need to be different to be tailored to its participants, time allowance and topic, so I have deliberately left out further details of time allocation, questions, etc.  We found ours changed as we learned what the participants needed.  We would have liked to have included more leverage of digital capture and sharing in the discussion.  That remains an opportunity for a future anti-panel.  

The anti-panellists played a role as participants in discussion, timekeepers, facilitators through open questioning to draw in additional views and tried to keep a perspective of the whole conversation.  Adaptive leadership questions that explore purposes, concerns, circumstances and that drew reflection on elements of the system proved valuable.

At Disrupt.Sydney, this format worked very well for the discussion on the topics of disruption.  The participant feedback was very positive.  We drew a rich range of perspectives from the participants, allowed the participants to shape the discussion and presented many opportunities to build, draw connections or add other elements to the topic of discussion.

More Experimentation Required

Our experience was a worthwhile first experiment.  More will be learned as others leverage a fundamentally different approach to sharing the expertise of a room full of talented people with the passion to engage in a topic.

Let us know what you change and what you learn from your anti-panel.  Post your experiences in the comments.  Open experimentation, collaboration and iteration can only improve the results.

Credit: Credit for the idea of the anti-panel belongs with Matt Moore who helped us plan the session and was sadly unable to join us in bringing it to life.