Return On Relationships

Authentic leadership for the social enterprise

Return on RelationshipsAuthenticity. Even the word feels weighty. And when combined with the word “leadership,” it gets even more intense. Over the last decade, authentic leadership has been the focus and target of many leadership models. For good reason. Authentic leaders hold the keys to establishing inspired, motivated and passionate organizations. Ask any leader you meet: Do you want an inspired organization? Do you want your workforce to be passionate and motivated? Unequivocally the answers will be “YES!”

In my book, The Leaders’ New Clothes: The Naked Truths of Leadership, there are seven Naked Truths of Authentic Leadership. The first and most important is about how you are perceived as a leader by those you lead. It states that:  “Perception is all there is—you are the leader you are perceived to be.” How you are perceived by your employees affects the culture inside the organization. Imagine being more than just perceived as, but instead KNOWN to be, an engaged leader who listens to, interacts with and learns from the employees in the organization. That is the definition of authentic leadership. The impact of such authenticity would be far reaching and better than any perception of one as a leader. So here’s a good question: Do you even know how you are perceived by your employees? For many of us, the answer is “No, we really don’t know.” By the way, you can go ahead and read that as, “I am naked.”

Now more than ever, there are great social-enterprise networking tools that can create and nourish a connection with those we lead. Along with mobile access, these internal social networks afford leaders an amazing, real-time, all-the-time connection to their employees, to the issues facing the business, to new product ideas and to every aspect of the business. What an amazing opportunity to build an authentic relationship with the groups, divisions and employees in the company!

Make no mistake about it, however, there is risk. Entering into an authentic relationship requires new levels of transparency from the front line to the C-suite. This is exactly why we see many leaders commit to providing the social network for the rest of the organization but exclude themselves from the conversation. They are content with providing transparency for the rest of the organization. This is more risky than actually engaging and setting the tone, direction and authenticity of the conversation.

As they have with social media in general, leaders ask, “What’s the ROI on the time commitment and costs?” And while that is a fair question, unfortunately ROI is the wrong metric for relationships. Instead, leaders should be seeking the Return on Relationship, or the ROR. What is the ROR on authentic leadership engagement in the social enterprise? It can be what all leaders seek: a motivated, inspired organization that is passionate about the company and its mission.

I firmly believe the ROR is worthy of the risk of engagement. Take a look at CEOs who have embraced the concept and have seen huge benefits. Brian Dunn at Best Buy, Michael Dell, Tony Hsieh at Zappos, Gary Kelley at Southwest and others engage socially with their employees and customers to foster a greater following inside and outside their companies. Consider Bill Marriott, CEO of Marriott, who wrote this on his blog: “What’s the big deal? This is just another way for me to talk to my customers and listen to my customers.” He knows that having a relationship with his customers keeps him on top of their feedback and interests. His relationship with customers and employees cultivates social influencers and evangelists.

It’s no secret that the way we communicate inside the organization is rapidly changing with the advent of social organizations. Leaders can authentically participate for a maximum ROR, or they can be naked: perceived as disconnected, uninterested or not present. Just remember that if you start down the authentic relationship path, you must commit to it. Otherwise you will be in violation of Naked Truth of Leadership number three: “If you are not ready to act, don’t ask!”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Karl Meinhardt

SMC SPEAKER: “The Chaos of Social Media”
Tuesday, May 1

Karl Meinhardt is a partner at Leadership Advisors Group in Boise, Idaho, and on the Web at