Charlene Li’s ‘Open Leadership’ -Book Review

Charlene Li ‘s new  book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, opens with a memorable story about musician, Dave Carroll, and his unfortunate incident when United Airlines damaged his guitar. Nine months later, when Carroll hadn’t made any progress being compensated for his guitar, he did something a little different to vent his feelings. He made a music video called “United Breaks Guitars” and posted it on YouTube. Charlene writes, “Within three days, the video had over one million views, and Carroll’s anthem became a viral sensation. By the end of 2009, there had been over seven million views and hundreds of news stories about Carroll’s experience.”

With this story, Charlene lays the groundwork for her new work about the ways in which social technology has changed the shift in power, where “individuals have the ability to broadcast their views to the world.”

Throughout the book, we learn from one example after another, how leaders need to find a way to communicate as openly as they can, and how this comes more easily for some than others. Charlene includes Open Leadership Self-Assessment tools so leaders can determine where they fall in the spectrum. She offers hope too for those who may not naturally be inclined towards openness by suggesting they start small. As she says, “It’s hard to suspend a mind-set that’s driven you throughout your professional career-it may feel completely unnatural to you and go against every fiber in your body.”

The book also includes useful Action Plans and Open Strategy Checklists. We learn too how leaders can (and should) partner with the optimists and strong collaborators in their organizations, and create a culture that supports being open.

While all leaders won’t comfortably gravitate to blogging or maintaining a presence on Facebook, Charlene gives two great examples of how some businesses have found workarounds. She tells the story about Bill Marriott, the CEO of hotel chain Marriott International who started blogging in 2007. But Marriott wasn’t comfortable with using the technology and couldn’t even type so a member of the communications staff records what he wants to say, transcribes it, and posts the text and audio file on his blog. John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, was concerned that blogging wouldn’t be a good fit for him so instead he tried a video blog.

The last chapter of the book, “How Openness Transforms Organizations” includes seven recommendations: 1) create a sense of urgency with information sharing, 2) identify the values that will carry you through the transformation, 3) lead by example, 4) encourage risk taking; reward risks taken, 5) start small to win big, 6) institutionalize systems and structures, 7) be patient.

With many valuable lessons and tools of the trade, Open Leadership will rightfully take its place on the virtual and brick-and-mortar Best of Business Book shelves for years to come.

If you had to answer the question right now, would you say you and your organization are open to practicing open leadership? What would make it possible?

* DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION Special thanks to John Wiley & Sons for providing a review copy of  Open Leadership for this blog post. Wiley books are available at your local bookstore or by calling 1-800-225-5945.

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