More ‘leader-shift’ than leadership is needed by CEOs in the age of social media

Author: Justin Harper | Date: 25 May 2016

Leaders should take the time to engage with staff and customers online, says Dr Tanvi Gautam

CEOs and leaders of organisations need a major shift in perspective if they are to succeed in an age of social media and online networks.
 
In fact, the term ‘leadership’ is outdated and should be replaced with a ‘leader-shift’, according to Dr Tanvi Gautam, program director and senior faculty, Singapore Management University (SMU).
 
“We need to stop thinking about leadership as managing hierarchies. There’s a shift in perspective as the workforce is more connected. So the question becomes ‘How do you lead in an age of networks?’” she said. Dr Gautam explains the term ‘wire-archy’, as opposed to hierarchy, which will see more leaders going online to head networks, enabled by technology and social media.
 
In the modern digital world, leaders will have to act as connectors. This will be a key competent, along with credibility and visibility, predicts Dr Gautam. She cited the example of Tony Fernandes, the charismatic founder and CEO of AirAsia, who was a very active tweeter when one of his planes disappeared and crashed in December 2014. “This is what we are expecting of our leaders. They should be online and visible and connected and lead from the frontline” she said.
 
She also cited the example of Virgin founder and serial entrepreneur Richard Branson who has a huge following online with his frequent tweets and blogs. “Is Richard Branson not busy enough already? Yet he is willing to represent the brand where the conversations are happening.”
 
However, research has shown that 68 per cent of CEOs have no online presence despite the huge benefits of having a social media profile. “Some treat social media as a passing fad. They think it is something for the younger generation, that it’s something for the marketing department, without seeing its value or importance,” she said.
 
Michael Netzley, academic director of executive development at SMU, said: “A lot of executives have not learned how powerful these channels can be. With many folks you will see they don’t give enough priority to social media and will actually outsource it to a PR agency or a corporate communications officer. But it’s not just a channel”.
 
Instead, he feels social media is a platform for customers to give feedback and be told about new products and services, for business partners and suppliers to keep up-to-date and for employees to “follow the boss and hear what you have to say. It’s so easy for people to get involved and share. The question is how can an executive enter the space well,” he added.
 
Critics of social media say it is hard to quantifiably measure the effects such online presence has, an argument Gautam challenges. “It’s not touchy-feely stuff. We can measure return on investment in tangible ways such as clicks, shares and page impressions. You have to be willing to experiment and not be in fear of failure. It's more about the attitude than the technology itself.”