It’s all about we not me

A few years ago Barry Libert co-authored a book, We Are Smarter Than Me, which he now uses as a base for his seminars.

Barry is Chairman of Mzinga, a corporate software company. We Are Smarter Than Me is about ‘old style’ versus ‘new style’ management. The central tenet is that traditional CEOs only think of themselves, whereas modern (post-modern?) mangers include the whole team in decision-making and other processes.

I meet Barry at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York where he’s giving his talk. Barry gives many anecdotes but the one I like best is his reasoning as to why Hilary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination: did you notice that Hillary ‘follows’ 0 people on Twitter while Barack ‘follows’ more than are following him?

Of course, we all know Barack doesn’t spend his entire day tracking the minutiae of 95,323 people online. Clearly he has better things to do. But it’s the principle of the thing, and what a simple ‘one click’ way to reinforce your support base (I was dead excited when a message entitled “Barack Obama is now following you on Twitter” dropped into my inbox – my loyalty upped on the spot).

This is just one great example of ‘we’ not ‘me’ thinking.

But, chatting to Barry a few days later on Skype, I find he’s not sure that businesses are ready for a new type of leadership – or certainly that’s not what they think they’re looking for: “If you want to be like Salesforce or SAP you fundamentally have to change the way the world works…but it’s bite-sized steps.”

Mzinga’s VP Social Media, Aaron Strout, who’s also in on the chat, agrees:

“We have to take that [leadership] concept and boil it down…managers tend to love the speech Barry does, but they want the practical crowd-sourcing stuff.”

Barry sees Mzinga’s approach as more “tactical” than revolutionary. For a start, he says, this management approach that us social media types may be evangelistic about (networked leadership, distributed leadership etc), doesn’t even have a proper name:

“I’m worried about all these words because they all come with prior definitions, prior explanations. You might argue that for example America is a democracy but it’s a whole other version of command and control…if it isn’t command and control to call our president the commander in chief then I don’t know what is…I think that these old words, distributed and democratic mean other things to most people.

“What you’re meaning is that leadership really does get distributed to the crowd, that people really do participate…I think ‘democratic’ or ‘distributed’ are dangerous words. With distributed and democratic, people think, ‘oh well, I’ve already got one of those companies, I’ve already got one of those leaders.”

So what term would Barry and Aaron like to use?

“The closest we’ve come to is ‘facilitated’ leadership,” says Aaron.

“I quite like ‘followership’,” says Barry. “As in how do you ‘follow’ other people to make them feel good…but no, I don’t think we’ve really come up with an answer to that one yet.”

But Barry himself come up with a nice description a couple of minutes later. It seems Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs might be as good a place as any to grab an apt adjective:

“I’m sort of a Maslovian…when you become self-actualised, you spend all your time giving back. You help people become self-actualised by supporting them.”

2 replies on “It’s all about we not me”

Just as a foot note to Barry’s comment on being a Maslovian, I googled the term and a book by boutique hotelier Chip Conley came up.

It’s called “Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow” (Jossey-Bass, 2007) and it’s all about promoting the self-actualisation of customers, shareholders and employees.

There’s a review of the book on Amazon by the authors of another book, “Firms of Endearment” (Wharton, 2007), that seems to argue a similar case.

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