Effective Leaders Use All Media, Including Social

Does a leader or a manager who is not naturally drawn to the use of digital media need to use them?


I have heard two valid-sounding arguments against this, which sound valid at first glance, but which don’t hold up very well under closer scrutiny. The first argument comes from leaders who feel that their organization needs to use digital media for marketing or for internal collaboration, but who echo the logic of one leader who recently suggested to me that

I don’t have to be a rocket scientist myself to manage a team of rocket scientists, so why do i need to be a social media user to manage people who are using social media?

The second argument suggests, as Dorie Clark writes in a recent Huffington Post post entitled “Why Social Media Wastes Leaders’ Time”, that rather than using digital media..

..it’s the forgotten 19th century arts (handwritten notes, personal phone calls, and high-quality personal meetings) that can have the greatest impact.

Both of these arguments are false for many reasons. Rather than spending time picking them apart, let me suggest two alternate arguments (please let me know in the comments if you would like for me to spend some more time picking the original ones apart and i will gladly do so). Here is the first argument:

While a great leader of rocket scientists does not have be a rocket scientist herself, she had better know how to get into their heads and understand the scientific, get-it-done, go-to-the moon engineering culture. She had also better know how to use the media of statistics, blueprints and flow diagrams as a way of communicating with those rocket scientists. A leader in 2011 who does not at least understand digital media (and digital media is not something you can understand by reading about it) probably does not understand the culture of her employees and of her customers, and will have trouble not only understanding and communicating with these two groups, but she will also have trouble understanding how to empower, motivate and help them to develop in a culture which is mediated in increasing amounts by digital media.

Here is the second argument:

Any leader who ever used just one form of media, whether it be face-to-face, email, written notes, letters, emails, smoke signals, carrier pigeons or social media, was never an effective leader. Great leaders always have, and always will communicate through a mix of media. Using each of these enough to know which mix is appropriate for which context is a core leadership skill. A leader in 2011 who does not know when to consider mixing a Tweet with a face-to-face meeting, and when to just send a hand-written note is probably not going to achieve good results.

If you are a leader who is reading this and recoiling because you can’t imagine how you can possibly learn something new like this when there are so many other fires to put out every day, you need not be worried. You can start simply by setting aside a few minutes per day–every day–engaging with your family, friends, and even your colleagues and employees on blogs, Twitter, Facebook or an internal social network. At first though, don’t think of the return on this time investment in terms of profit or efficiency. That will come later. Instead, think of it in terms of understanding your people and your culture, which is core to your long-term ability to lead.


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