One of the classic leadership quandaries has to do with whether/when a leader should “do” or when a leader should “delegate.” When the CEO finds a mess in the lunch room of an organization, for example, should she pick it up herself, or should she delegate that duty to someone else? On the one hand, if the CEO went around doing every little task that she thinks is not getting done, she risks making the classic mistake of “micro-managing” – a practice which often has the negative consequence of stunting employee growth.
On the other hand, if the CEO continually delegated these tasks to someone else, she misses the opportunity to model (exemplify) behaviors that other employees can then see and then do for themselves. I wrote a recent blog post about the concept of social learning (skip to the second paragraph here to read it) – which is a powerful way that most humans learn and adopt new behaviors. The CEO who picks up the lunch room herself taps into this powerful learning tool, by modeling a behavior, rather than just teaching it or delegating it.
Many leaders in organizations today face the same quandary with respect to social media. Once they’ve decided that social media is something the organization should begin exploring, should C-level folks and managers be using social media themselves, or is it something they should be delegating to employees?
From a social modeling perspective, it is pretty clear that leaders should be using social media themselves – perhaps before the rest of the organization does. By doing so, they have a unique chance to model a fairly complex social behavior which would be pretty difficult to put into a series of policies or guidelines. For example, once employees have observed the COO’s tone in a blog post about a controversial recent acquisition, they begin to shape their own ideas about the tone that they can take when writing their own blog posts. As another example, if the CEO of an organization models the behavior that it is okay, and even encoraged to share both personal and professional information via Twitter, employees will feel comfortable doing so themselves. In addition to modeling the behavior of social media use itself, the use of social media by leaders can be a great, informal way to communicate with a large group of people who can subscribe to read without forcing them to read yet another formal company-wide email.
Members of the SociaLens team are currently doing some academic research on Zappos.com and their use of social media. One of the conspicuous things we noticed early on is the fact that the leadership team were perhaps the first and most frequent users of Twitter. As an example, the top 4 of the 431 people on their “Employees Who Twitter” page include the CEO Tony Hsieh (who now has 751,000+ followers), their COO (who has 8,000+ followers) and their Recruiting Manager (who has 5,000+ followers).