The Social CEO – The Future of Leadership

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One of the highlights for me of the brilliant HouseParty event last month was the Fireside chat on being a Social CEO by Lisa Pickard, Chief Executive of Leeds & Yorkshire Housing Association. I was fascinated to hear Lisa’s journey, through using social media to becoming one of the best known UK social housing Chief Executives on Twitter. Of course, it is true of a chief executive, as it is true of anyone else really, that their online presence basically reflects their everyday personality, and it is pretty impossible to graft a sociable online presence onto a antisocial person. But it is equally true that not every sociable person understands the importance of a social media presence, or of making it more than just a link farm.

The advent of social media is changing what it means to be a leader in the 21st Century, and Lisa is just one example of a leader who has grasped this fact and is making use of it. In the modern world leadership does not come about through status, it comes from what a leader says and does, and how this is conveyed to others. Thus there are many examples of people who have come to be seen as leaders even though their position in traditional hierarchies might not suggest such. And social media can be scary for senior managers, used to being deferred to because of their status, who have to start from scratch with zero followers and take time to build online influence.

There is no doubt in my mind that this investment in time is worth it however, and that people who embrace social media are better leaders. Lisa herself said that she now felt that her small housing association was punching above its weight because of her profile on social media.

Inspired by Lisa, and some of the other leaders I know such as Nick Atkin, Shaun Tymon, and Jen Barfoot, I have for some time been putting together a programme for a workshop on being a Social CEO. Having formulated the programme, I then approached a number of organisations which run seminars to see if they would be interesting in collaborating on it. The response I got surprised me. It was, in effect, that they were not prepared to take the risk on it as they didn’t believe that a group of chief executives would ever sit in the same room and admit that they didn’t have all the answers. If this is true it is disappointing. Maybe it illustrates the point that some make that traditional hierarchies are threatened by social media, and that the people at the top are threatened more than most. But those, like Lisa, Nick, Shaun and Jen (sorry to those I am missing out), who have embraced it are reaping the benefits. Those who are not yet on board might well find their position being undermined, both by other, forward-thinking organisations, and by those within their own institutions who get it.

So, what do you think? Is the idea of a workshop for SocialCEOs a non-starter. Or should I just go ahead and do it?

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