Organisations need to develop social leadership if they want to keep pace with marketplace opportunities arising from change in the real world rather than being held back by the inertia of top-down driven organic growth. 

There is pressure to shake off the unconscious social bias at higher levels of leadership. Leaders want to move away from the image of ‘snowy white peaks’ (old white men at the top) which does not reflect the real world social demographic. Organisations have started to promote minorities and under-represented groups to the executive committee. But how exactly does this help an organisations become more competitive?

Lessons not learnt

We’ve all heard stories of the high performing star, selected on the basis of prior success, performing disastrously when promoted to a different team or even another organisation. These are no longer isolated events. The debilitating power of playing catch-up in a changing context is the reality of a social world and it is the strength and level of ambiguity that sets leaders up to fail in the battle of control. Leadership selection bias in favour of Intrinsic Task-based Skill and Control Competencies, it turns out, is an inadequate criterion to predict future leadership potential, especially when context challenges have started to outweigh a single human capability. Still, top leaders continue to promote task performers to future leadership positions.

From beehive to a flocking mentality

Organisations who strategize for social leadership have leaders who create leaders. Unlike a beehive, this is not about task allocation and accountability. This is about creating a crowd of thought-leaders.

As opposed to the intelligence of a single mind, social leaders motivate the intelligence of the collective to emerge.

Like a murmuration of starlings in the evening sky, a social leader has the ability to mobilize a crowd of people with diverse-thinking to collaborate and own conversations, facilitating open discussion about what is important and ‘happening’. Social discussion creates a cultural demographic that cares about the world and what beneficial impact they can have as an organisation.

Without the right kind of social leaders, organisations fixated on social demographics at the top will miss out on nurturing the business potential of a very important socio-cultural demographic, the social collaborators.

In the right place, at the right time

The growing number of business opportunities can only be matched by the expanding size of the social world. There is a cultural belief of doing nothing until a trend can prove itself over time. But the pace of every change nowadays is so rapid that missed opportunities can, very quickly, stack-up and make organisations irrelevant. Think about the recent announcement by Volvo to switch to electric-driven technology to realise the impact on BP whose major business is fossil fuel.

Inability to spot a threat is not a failure of leadership complacency. It is a failure of leadership to deploy their most valuable resource. Doesn’t it make sense that employees and even customers, the people who are already in social groups where the next best technology or the next best app are being discussed, are well placed to spot business threats first? Why are they not being equipped with greater competencies to play a bigger role in the organisations’ future viability?

Organisations need to develop social leadership if they want to keep pace with marketplace opportunities arising from change in the real world rather than being held back by the inertia of top-down driven organic growth.

Spotting Social Leaders

Social leaders are not at the top. They are in the cluster-chat at coffee machines, much to the dislike of their managers. They are the people engagers and the trust builders. They are in the discussions about childcare costs and healthcare issues as much as they are in everyday laughs about the neighbour’s cat. They are having conversations online and in social groups. They are sharing photos of their failed cake-baking attempts as much as they are tracking the next disruptive trend. Curiosity is in their DNA. Adaptability is their strength. They are not specific to any defined demographic….and they are many.

Giants like 3M and Google have embraced their (20-percent-style) employee working one-day a week on any innovation they like. Some large tech companies have close association with their spin-off companies, helping them to grow independently. All this collaboration is of strategic significance to the many drivers of a productive social culture. The results speak for themselves.

Making your own social strategy productive

Organisational social leaders influence mindsets with a sense of collective vision. A productive social strategy has a purpose – to make collective-mindsets and connected-thinking productive. They behave in a way which makes every employee feel not just included but that they ARE the future of their organisation.

Even new Digitization strategies can only go so far in creating the platform for connected social interaction. Data Analytics can only go so far as to predict where and when the next opportunity or threat is likely to surface. If your culture works against the encouragement of participate communication and transparent information-sharing in absolutelyall its forms, translating any knowledge advantage into an opportunity at the pace needed will face huge barriers. Align your digitization strategy to an engaged social strategy first!


Vikram Millns is an Innovation and Transformation Consultant. With a long career in innovation, he helps people and teams re-engage with their organisation through the development of an innovative mindset.He has an MBA, two Scientific Masters degrees and has 20 years of experience working with Startups, SME’s and large corporate cultures.

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