Speaking of Leadership – John F. Moore

John F. Moore is the founder of The Lab, a consulting firm that provides market research, consulting services, and product delivery to help small and medium businesses, as well as local governments and state agencies, implement common sense approaches to leveraging social business strategies, tactics, and tools to meet their organizational goals.

In addition to his work with The Lab, John is a Strategic Advisor to Silberberg Innovations, the Founder of CityCamp Boston (an event focused on bringing together citizens, local government officials, municipal employees, experts, programmers, designers and journalists to share perspectives and insights about the cities in which they live), and a contributor to Fortune.com.

Prior to founding The Lab, John was the CTO, SVP of Engineering, Chief Social Ecosystem Strategist at Swimfish, CTO, VP Engineering at Sonicbids, Inc., and the Director of Engineering at Brainshark,Inc.

John is also a prolific blogger, a frequent speaker on government 2.0 and social business strategies, and has grown strong, thriving communities on Twitter (19,000+), Empire Avenue (600+), and Facebook (150+).

I corresponded with John recently via email to ask him about social media and leadership.

JS: You’ve held a lot of leadership positions over your career, but you’ve taken a big step founding and running The Lab. What are some of the key differences you’ve experienced so far between leading within an established organization and creating one yourself?

JFM: When you join an existing organization there is an established culture in place. That culture is often the biggest difference between success and failure of the organization and is something you must quickly work to understand as part of entering a new role. When you create your own business or join a new startup, however, that culture has not yet formed. You have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to create a culture that supports winning.

JS: You’ve been a real leader in the social media space, especially in the use of SM (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) to create business networks and networking opportunities. Could you talk a little about how you got involved in SM and how you landed where you are now?

JFM: I have always been interested in learning and find that the best way to learn is to share thoughts, engage in conversation, and be open to alternate points of view. Blogging, both standard and micro-blogging with Twitter, are perfect channels for someone seeking to learn through engagement. I began using both, however, with some skepticism.

  • There are more than 130 million blogs world-wide and I was unsure that people would find, much less care about, the topics I was writing about.
  • Twitter was not something I had much hope for early on. I began using it, more out of curiosity than anything. After about six weeks it began to click, however, and it was clear that this was a channel worthy of continued investment.

I joined LinkedIn years ago and immediately saw the value of it as a way to easily store my on-line resume. This was very early on, however, and many people who I knew personally were not yet on it. Today I use LinkedIn as simply another channel for communication, primarily groups.

Through blogging and Twitter I have been fortunate enough to speak with thousands of people who I would have never met otherwise. I have met many of them in person, or spoken with them on the phone, moving beyond just the written word. These conversations have enabled me to learn a lot as well as to build great relationships, opening up doors that I would not have even known about otherwise.

JS: You’ve also been really creative in how you’ve pushed the envelope with SM (work Wednesday and follow Friday on Twitter, for example)—any thoughts on what the “next big thing” in the SM space might be? What’s on your radar?

JFM: One of the areas I am most focused upon right now is providing local level insights and collaboration. Solutions like Facebook and Twitter have eliminated geographical barriers at a global level but have not solved the problem of bringing people in the same city/town together around issues impacting them daily. Our Town Talk is a community that I am working on as a potential solution. It is extremely early, however, but I will let you know how it evolves.

JS: What would you say are the top leadership challenges facing organizations you’ve worked with that are trying to deploy SM in a business context (whether internal or external facing)?

JFM: In many cases social media has been deployed by passionate, well-meaning, employees without first winning management support. This leads to a disconnect. Employees are executing in the moment without a clear understanding of how their work is impacting the goals of the organization. Executives, left in the dark, are either pleasantly surprised or furious when they find out.

When this does happen it is important for everyone to come together and:

  • Define the business case for social media. This does not have to be a major project in a small organization but is important to ensure everyone understands the goals and how the use of social media fits into the strategies and tactics being used to meet these goals.
  • Ensure that usage guidelines are clear. While I promote having everyone using social media it is critical that everyone understands what is considered acceptable usage.
  • Agree on how to measure the results of your social media efforts. It is okay if you agree not to measure, but at least have the conversation.

JS: This raises the issue of SM ROI—a contentious topic. Some folks out there feel that SM should be held to the same standards of estimating costs and benefits that other technologies are, while others feel that it’s dial tone, infrastructure a business has to provide, like email. Where do you fall on this issue?

JFM: We can measure the ROI of social media and it is important that we do so, especially early on in the adoption cycles within an organization. I advocate that organizations construct a business case with measurable outcomes that they can point to as part of embracing a more open social business model. Now, as the company’s culture evolves, and it becomes an accepted part of doing business (like the telephone, email, etc..) the shift away from ROI is acceptable as businesses then need to focus more on KPIs and determine both the value of overall campaigns and the effectiveness of individual channels (social media and all).

JS: How has SM/E2.0 changed the role of the leader at the organization today?

JFM: It hasn’t. I would love to be able to say that it has made leaders more open and engaged than before but I don’t believe this is the case.

JS: What has been your most meaningful failure to date? What was it about the experience that made it important for your development?

JFM: In one of my first management roles at IBM I was responsible for managing several software development teams. Excited by the challenge I did a great job, splitting my time evenly between the teams, driving each forward at the same pace, and on and on. Of course, I never took the time to fully understand the business value associated with each project. I ran them equally which, in this case, was a complete mistake. One project mattered far more than the others and one project was just on life support. While none of the projects failed I personally failed by not focusing enough time in the right areas. This experience is one of the major reasons that I always push for having a clear understanding of the organization’s goals. It can be the difference between success and failure.

JS: Out of all the qualities a leader needs, which would you say is most important? Why?

JFM: The ability to focus on gaining a clear understanding of how you, and your team(s), fits into the success of your organization. Regardless of the leadership role, this understanding is key.

JS: Out of all the qualities the average person would consider important for a leader, which is the most overrated? Why?

JFM: People skills are often the most overrated. While I personally value these skills a great deal I have seen countless leaders with poor people skills excel personally and professionally (note that these leaders typically have people on their teams to help balance this out). A great leader first understands the goals and then motivates their team to achieve results.


One Response

  1. Great interview Joe… however I would have to challenge the notion that a leader’s “people skills” are often the most overrated. Dealing with and managing people is a hallmark quality of any leader. Leaders with excellent “people skills” are able to communicate effectively, quickly resolve conflict, build strong relationships, collaborate successfully, and understand the pulse of their organizations (by seeking and receiving feedback). In my opinion, intellect, hard work, and “people skills” are the key qualities of any successful leader.

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