Review of Open Leadership, by Charlene Li

Just finished Open Leadership, by Charlene Li, which is a follow-up to her best-selling Groundswell. And whereas that book focused on the social media technologies that are transforming how companies do business, Open Leadership looks at how leaders need to transform themselves to allow their organizations to use social media effectively.

There’s a real glut of books out there on social media, and I find many of them lack real substance or staying power, whether because the social media domain is evolving so quickly or the books have been rushed to market (or both). Li’s book, in contrast, has a good bit of depth and will have quite a bit of staying power despite its timeliness.

Overall, the book has three main topic areas:

  1. What does an open leader look like?
  2. What steps can someone take to be a more open leader and foster a more open organization?
  3. What are some leading organizations doing to become more open and how has their leadership contributed to these efforts?

Maybe because I’m someone who tends toward being more open in how I work and lead, or because I have a good bit of experience working with social media personally and on behalf of my clients (or both), I’ll admit that I found the first two less useful than the third. And it’s hard for me to decide whether someone who struggles with being open or using social media (or both) would find these sections valuable–so if any of you out there have opinions on this, please chime in!

Despite this, I found her discussions of what some leading organizations are doing to become more open well worth the price of the book. From her initial case study of the Red Cross through the closing chapter’s focus on six open organizations, the book is replete with fascinating and instructive examples drawn from interviews as well as Li’s own work with clients as the founder of Altimiter Group.

I think it’s immensely gratifying to learn the inside scoop about how companies like Dell, Starbucks, Procter & Gamble, or  Best Buy transformed into the social media powerhouses they are today, particularly because you can visit their public websites to experience first-hand the openness Li describes (e.g., Dell’s IdeaStorm or Starbuck’s MyStarbucksIdea.com).

Overall, this is a great read, even if folks who are “all in” on social media may find sections a bit too elementary for them. That having been said, I’d love to hear what folks out there think about this book, Li’s work in general, or even other social media books you think are valuable–jump in and let’s get the conversation started!

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Joe… I read an excellent book on Social Media a while back ago. It is called “Surfing the Rift: The Executive’s Guide to the Post-Web 2.0 World”… you should give it a read, as it is very good (it’s also a quick read).

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