|Posted on Apr 25, 2011 11:49:57 AM | James Williams | 4 Comments ||
I spent 6 months acting as the Chief Information Officer for the Ames Research Center. On November 7, 2010, I finally received the job permanently. This is my very first blog posting. People have told me that once I commit to doing a blog that I need to consistently provide updates and information. Otherwise, I’ll be viewed as an imposter and someone who doesn’t comprehend the value of social media and open leadership. Well…… I’m not an imposter except sometimes I can impose. I do value and comprehend social media. And I’d like to really apply the principles of open leadership. I’ll sign up to do my best to provide updates on a regular basis……..So here it goes…….
I’ve thought in great length about what type of message do I want to put out. What type of message do I want to create and what type of information will I feel comfortable putting out there about myself. After all, cyberspace is a forever type endeavor. Once I put it out there, I can’t erase it or retract it and I’d be naïve to even try. Most who know me from large meetings know that I’m not comfortable speaking up in large groups and often do not even take risk by speaking out. So this virtual media. This world of no control. Where your critics can openly criticize …..well that makes me kind of nervous. So I am tentative. Maybe even cautious, but nonetheless, I am committed to learning how to feel comfortable and to adapt to the world where control is given up because there is value in someone finding a way to relate to my message thus increasing my chances for getting constructive feedback from the largest audience possible. I get the concept. Assess the feedback and criticism for merit. And leverage and apply the good stuff for growth. Sounds simple.
I have to admit….. I reflected on feedback from people that have taken the plunge. One person told me how she received unkind words in comments on her blog. She cried. She didn’t have to admit she cried but she did. Another guy talked to me about how he received tons of negative criticisms for ruffling the feathers of the establishment. He relished the insults he received. Insults weren’t the objective but being provocative was. He accomplished his goal. He laughed. At first I thought how mean to want to illicit anger and rude comments from people – and then to laugh about it. But in the virtual world, the emotional reactions of people are not seen. The emotion may be clearly obvious in the choice of words used or it may even be subtle so that the emotion has to be inferred, but that in person emotional response, no one sees it. This somehow felt wrong to me. It was almost as if the virtual world had no accountability for the harmful things that it can do to people. Of course the extreme examples of misuse are dealt with but those comments that are mean and sometimes even personal…. well those aren’t considered out of bounds… in poor taste maybe….but not out of bounds. So I sat for a few weeks. I cogitated on the idea of this social media and my fears associated with opening myself up to it. How would this work with my values and how I react to things? I mean after all… I don’t take mean comments well, I tend to be fairly private and I personalize things a little too much some times. I’m risk adverse. I’d like to say I had an epiphany and something spoke to me but it wasn’t that type of revelation. It was actually just a friend who as a matter of fact stated… “well you always talk about people providing you feedback on exactly what they think…..well, eat your own dog food….and stop being weak….” So I got it. Often people won’t tell you in person what they think – my close friends do…that’s why they’re close. However, in most face to face meetings, direct communication and candid communication is not easy. In the virtual world….. it’s safe for someone to talk back without repercussion. Okay…so people who won’t self-identify may be considered cowardly…..etc etc etc…. but it isn’t really about that bi-directional feedback loop. It’s about getting the feedback from what is posted. It’s about not taking it personally and getting all the aspects of how people feel and what the full spectrum of thought is. So I get it. I know I will probably not take insult well but the potential benefit is bigger than my feelings being hurt a few times….…….however, just as a note, mean people stink in person and in virtual space. They’re mean and this should affect me how? Exactly….it shouldn’t.
So once I got to this place…I began to think about this social media in terms of Open Leadership. I read a book recently on Open Leadership, by Charlene Li, the very first chapter Li (2010) titled “why giving up control is inevitable” (p. 3). It didn’t say optional. It said inevitable. In the internet world, power truly has shifted to individuals because each person has the ability to openly and freely express his or her views to the entire world. It’s as easy as hitting a “post” box with the cursor.
So back to the whole blog thing….One of my initial thoughts was how do I become the type of leader and manager that I always wanted to have? We’ve all heard that good leaders may not be good managers and good managers are not necessarily leaders.
I, quite frankly, disagree. I have been exposed to people who have struck the balance between leadership and management very well. These people do not have great fame. Their names are not common place. They are regular people. Down to earth types that actually focus on people. They didn’t inspire me by creating technology to solve problems or coming up with the ideas that create new NASA missions, but they inspired me to do so. They’re the type of people that made me want to come to work. That made the environment I work in a safe place to be. That made it safe to make mistakes and to take risks. These people are real. I always could sit down with them and talk through many things. So as I thought through this and thought about the world that I work in now, in this world of social media, I can create a place for people to do that with me as well. A place where people feel safe to tell me things no matter how hard it is to say. I guess….that’s the difference. At least a difference I’d like to make.
James F. Williams
Li, C. (2010). Open leadership: how social technology can transform the way you lead. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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