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Redefining Leadership with Social Innovation

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Sep 30, 2014 11:33:00 AM

social innovationIf your view of leadership involves having a single person or the C-level team making decisions about what will be done, how to do it, and delegating responsibility to execute those decisions to supervisors who manage the people who will do the work, social innovation is likely not for you. If, on the other hand, you see organizations as more hyperlinked than hierarchical, you may be in a position to reap the benefits of social innovation. Rather than tell you how redefining what it means to be a leader can improve your odds of company success, we thought we’d rely on famous leaders who’ve taken the same view.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu

“We did it.” Isn’t this the feeling you want your employees to have when problems are solved and success is achieved? Introducing a platform for social innovation is an excellent way to achieve Lao Tzu’s vision. Not only does working together to solve problems reinforce the “we,” but it also encourages your team to take personal responsibility in outcomes.

So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work. —Peter Drucker

Social innovation is about getting out of the way and letting the people closest to your organization’s trickiest problems suggest ideas for improvement and work together to find solutions. Things look very different from the C-level than the street. Policies and procedures designed to improve productivity often have the opposite impact. Clever ideas for smoothing out processes can come from unexpected places.

The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority. —Kenneth Blanchard

Just like social media is led by influencers, so too can be your company’s efforts to find opportunities for improvement. Not only can the executive team act as influencers, anyone can. When employees see the ideas and suggestions of their peers acted on in a way that makes things better for customers, employees or partners, they will be more likely to share their own ideas and will look to the organization’s influencers for guidance and support.

As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others. - Bill Gates

Social innovation is all about empowerment.  It allows the water cooler conversation to shift from problems to solutions. That change in point of view alone is often enough to make a difference in employee engagement and commitment to success. Your team will start playing for the name on the front of the jersey, rather than the one on the back.

You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership. –Dwight Eisenhower

You’ve hired smart, dedicated people. They don’t need a nanny, they need the opportunity to express and test their own ideas with the rest of the team. Relying on authority will likely get you compliance, but not engagement or discretionary effort.

If you are afraid social innovation will be messy, you are right. There is nothing more simple than orders coming from the top and trickling down the chain of command. But the area at the top of the pyramid is much smaller than the one at the bottom and top-down decision-making is limiting. As these leaders have discovered, true success is achieved through empowerment and the willingness to let others grow and succeed. When you think about leadership this way, social innovation seems like a pretty obvious path.

Want to learn more about leadership behaviors that create a culture of continuous improvement? Check out our free eBook: 

25 Leadership Behaviors That Create A Culture of Continuous Improvement

Topics: Leadership, Employee Engagement

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