Good to Great’s Jim Collins on Social Media: “It Doesn’t Change Leadership Fundamentals”

Posted on September 17, 2009


As both a talk show host and author, I have very much enjoyed my interaction with many of Social Media’s thought leaders both through the various blogs that I write and of course the PI Window on Business Show.

I have particularly enjoyed my discussions with author and Ecademy co-founder Penny Power who I believe represents an important link between the “social” or human elements of social networking and the more technical aspects associated with the ever evolving platforms of the Web 2.0 world.

So when I read (and yes even commented) on her recent blog post titled “Institutional Leadership vs Network Leadership,” I was interested in learning her thoughts on the subject of leadership in an increasingly virtual world.

Preparing to address what she referred to “as a room full of Executive Headhunters,” a profession that has a significant presence in most networks, her presentation theme is “what questions are you asking the future leaders of tomorrow?”

Specifically, Penny indicated that she is “intrigued by the lack of apparent understanding in many organizations about the way leadership will have to change to attract a FaceBook Generation who are clearly thinking as ‘networked individuals’ rather than ‘Institutional employees’.”

Concluding that it is “Not long now before they are a major force in the workplace,” the question that remains according to Penny, is how social media’s generational mix (and in some cases divide) will ultimately converge to create a cohesive business enterprise.

Having recently aired three segments in which I had the opportunity to interview experts from various parts of the world on the subject of leadership, a number of interesting insights were revealed that may, at least in part, answer this question.

To begin, some cite a balance between social intelligence versus emotional intelligence as a key element of sound leadership – which I believe has a great deal of validity.

In other instances the influence of time or era has been presented in terms of asking the age old question “does the era make the leader, or does the leader make the era.  For example Winston Churchill was the right man, in the right place at the right time to lead England (and the world I might add) through some of her darkest hours.  Yet in 1948 he was summarily defeated as being out of touch.  Along the same lines, and in an interesting twist, I could not help but wonder how the perceived weakness and gullibility of a Neville Chamberlain would have played out during a time of peace?

Let’s look at Henry Ford.  There is no question that he revolutionized modern manufacturing.  However in the book Unstable At The Top he was referred to as an unstable iconoclast, whose manner quite frankly would not be tolerated in today’s socially aware business world.

There are of course many other insightful revelations resulting from my September 8th interview with acclaimed author, lecturer and executive coach Dr. John Ullmen, Ph.D, as well as from our guest panel discussions on June 28th and 30th.

Dr. Ullmen, whose books include “Don’t Kill the Bosses: Escaping the Hierarchy Trap” and “Who Wins Conflict,”  gives popular lectures on the subject of leadership for the UCLA Anderson School of Management.  Recognized as an expert in defining, directing and empowering leaders, Dr. Ullmen provided a number of entertaining anecdotes from both a military and civilian perspective that you will undoubtedly find interesting.

The guest panel discussions, which inlcuded Bill McAneny (from the UK) who wrote “Frankenstein’s Manager: Leadership’s Missing Links” dispels a few popular myths including the fact that listening is an act of will versus being an acquired skill; Merydith Willoughby (from Australia), whose new book Sex in the Boardroom highlighted the fact that organizations do not do enough to develop leadership from within; Dr. Gaby Cora (from the US) whose book “Leading Under Pressure” examines the challenges leaders face in an increasingly complex world – social media being one of those complexities; and Forrest Breyfogle III (US) whose 4 book Integrated Enterprise Excellence series discusses why Six Sigma and Lean initiatives fail to deliver without the proper guidance from the top, round out a fairly comprehensive view of the leadership issue.

However, and like the proverbial exclamation point at the end of a thought provoking statement, I just today received through his assistant an e-mail from Jim Collins who wrote Good to Great, regarding social media and leadership that may surprise many.  Here is an excerpt from the e-mail:

“Like most of the world, we are still navigating the world of social media – and do not yet fully know what its impact will be. As such, I’m afraid we likely won’t be able to shed too much insight on your question.

However, we do know that nothing we have seen has suggested that there is any fundamental change to the framework we uncovered in Good to Great – even when those leaders were running the organizations, there were still media and other publicity pressures on them; but they simply approached them differently than did the comparison CEOs. If anything, it would seem that social media does not fundamentally change the nature of the beast – it perhaps just makes it noisier, and faster.”

An interesting perspective wouldn’t you say?

I would once again encourage you to visit Penny’s Blog on Ecademy (if you are not already a member of this “original” social network that began in 1998, it is free to join).

Here is the On-Demand Player for the September 8th interview with John Ullmen.  I would also encourage you to use the following links to access to Part 1 and Part 2 of the guest panel segment.

Vodpod videos no longer available.