Why should leaders blog?

That’s the question thrown my way by Simon Peters at Common Purpose as this international leadership charity sets out to start it’s own blogging experiment. So why?

follower or leader  copyright pinkbettyLeaders need followers and followers need to know if they can trust you.

A blog helps establish how trustworthy you are. It is a patient process, but, over time, if you write about the things you care about, link to the people who make sense to you, share questions online it paints a picture people can trust. It reveals who you are and why your vision makes sense. Of course if you tell your PA to do that for you it won’t work.

Leaders not only need followers, they need help.

Problems are usually best solved collaboratively. Collaboration is at its best when there is a diversity of opinions available. Blog about a problem you need to solve and the network you can establish around your blog will help you solve it. This is leadership in a world where hierachy is often the block to progress. Blogger Tessy Britton (link) can help me explain this:

the amount of technical information is doubling every 2 years, there were 3000 books published today, 2.7 billion searches performed on google this month . . .

Which is why computers are no longer optional… and why social network sites have literally exploded. We need to manage all the connections and all the information. The truth is really quite profound. We cannot manage without people networks, where we have connections with lots and lots of other people. And with those connections can come a measure of confidence. Perhaps we don’t need to be trying desperately to absorb so much information, perhaps it is OK to let others know lots of other things we don’t . . . but are only a click or a call away? We need people, and we need to build trusting relationships with those people in order to collaborate.

I think that that this is a truly wonderful thing.

Why else? Followers are clear about what they expect from their leaders, and the openess it takes to blog well can encourage some of those qualities.

In 2005 the DTI commissioned leadership company Caret to carry out the biggest ever survey of followers. They asked 5,000 people what they looked for in their leaders. The results (link here) were interesting, although not surprising:

An inspirational leader ….
• Has an ability to manage and engage people: they listen, involve, trust, appreciate, have fun; they care and involve everyone.
• Is honest, open, respectful, committed, focused, determined, courageous, humble, patient, vulnerable, energised, reflective, passionate, non-jargony, curious.
• Has a novel outlook: looks laterally, bends rules, loves pressure, is highly accessible, strongly visionary, and customer-obsessed.
These are the things followers said would inspire them.

Qualities many of us show in everyday life, with our friends and family, but we can tend to put them aside when we have to function as part of an organisation.

Blogging helps you find your voice, it helps you understand what you naturally believe in, and then challenges those beliefs. It exposes you to a global set of ideas and examples riddled with novelty and invites you to join a conversation, sometimes leading, sometimes following; sometimes learning, sometimes teaching.

It makes you accessible, encourages you to communicate in plain language, it requires you to stick your kneck out, expose yourself and learn from doing so. It works best when you are patient about building a valued network, curious about others people’s ideas, generous with your own.

See any parallels?

Disclosure. I’m a Common Purpose “graduate” (I don’t like that term) from Birmingham in 2000 and 2003. I’m also an associate consultant with Caret – the DTI sponsored research was completed before I joined.

Image thanks to pinkbetty on Flickr.

Update: April 17th 2008. You might be interested in this new blog on leadership.

17 comments

  1. Perfect timing – I’m doing a talk on some of these issues tomorrow… should be interesting!

    Blogging is scary a lot of people – it’s permanent and impermanent at the same time. If you put out an idea one minute and change your mind the next that record is there to stay. In conversations offline that doesn’t happen.

    I’ve learnt that blogging is a very powerful medium for connecting with people and learning more from your network at the same time as sharing thinking and ideas.

  2. bounder says:

    As someone who loves blogs, and the communication around them, I’d say that someone “leading” me would do better if there were immersed in blogging ‘culture’ – not necessarily blogging as such, but attuned to having discussions in ‘public’, and talking about things before the answer has been found.

    The communication, and the believability, are the key things – if the leader grasps that, then their communication offline would be improved as well.

    That said, it would take great deal of work (time mainly) for a council leader, a head of a large organisation (Mark Thompson at the Beeb, for example), or anyone who’s established as having a message and a purpose, to build that trust – until then it would just seem another dose of PR.

  3. Nick Booth says:

    Thank you both. The permanence is a confidence issue in my mind. The cult(ure) of professionalism requires people to be “right”. I think the social web and collboration in such ways blows a hole in that requirment most of the time.

    Jon I agree with and love the idea of people not jumping to conclusions. An ongoing conversations as a means of finding our what should be done. I wonder how long it would take a blogging politician to overcome that cynicism. I think it is already happening – ‘locally’ http://www.tom-watson.co.uk/ Tom Watson gets some constructive comments from people on his bog, although you could say that is mainly people vying for attention or access to patronage. That though will always be so – and sometimes I feal I’m too naieve about social media.

  4. Paul Caplan says:

    ‘Why should leaders Blog?’ becuase they’re not “Leaders” anymore. They’re one among equals and their voice is just like anyone elses. It is judged on its passion, reality and relevancy. If they are not involved in conversations and content-relationships, those relationships will still happen. The party will still continue. The initiatives and politico-social movements will still happen but they will be sitting in their corner of the party – Billy no-mates, talking to themselves.

  5. I think the issue is simpler. Leaders lead by being visible and inspiring. It is a rare leader who hides away without communicating.

    Take local Councillors. They lead by being in their community holding conversations, doing radio and press interviews, writing letters, attending and speaking at public meetings. It is their bread and butter.

    They, and other leaders, are being left behind though. Those conversations, those public meetings are happening online too. In blogs, in forums on email groups. Leaders need to participate in those conversations too or risk becoming half a leader. It is difficult to participate fully without being there with your own blog.

    Therefore leaders must blog or ignore a significant and increasingly important part of their leadership role.

  6. Nick. Lol. Blogging isn’t easy. You spend hours putting together a well-researched post and someone comes along and posts an uncited comment at the click of a button.

    To be serious though the questions of whether leaders should blog or not is clear cut. The more difficult one is how to motivate them to do so, how we can encourage them to dip a toe in the water. The Cllr2.0 project is all about that and I might give you call to see if you’re able to help.

  7. Nick T says:

    Great post (and comments). I was thinking about this a lot when I had to run a brief blogging workshop for the Social Enterprise Ambassadors who are all leaders of their respective organisations. For me, it came back to Hugh at GapingVoid who boils it down to the need for:

    – passion
    – authority
    and continuity

    The best chief execs have the first two, and the key to blogging success is adding the third element (don\’t start it if you\’re not going to carry it on). It\’s also about enabling dialogue and conversation in a different way (cutting through hierarchies), and about being able to communicate more informally / with personality.

    Here\’s my powerpoint on how and why to blog (mostly cartoons).

    http://www.socialenterpriseambassadors.org http://www.slideshare.net/SSE/how-and-why-to-blog/

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