Peter: Could you be so kind to introduce yourself to my followers?
Julian: My name is Julian Stodd, and I usually describe myself as a writer, and Explorer of the Social Age. I’m also the Captain of Sea Salt Learning.
I am fortunate to exist in a privileged space: I work with the military, government, industry, education, and into the third sector. My community takes me into so many different spaces, and as time goes by, it gets even more interesting. That’s the joy of the Social Age, barriers can be transcended, and you really can claim a space where you are driven by curiosity, and sharing alone. And, I hope, with a humility to learn.
Peter: How do you understand Social Leadership in HR context?
Julian: Formal leadership is given to you by your organisation. Social Leadership is awarded to you by your community. If you earn it: it’s reputation based authority. Contextual, consensual, and highly fluid. Power outside the system. From an HR perspective, this is new space: within the formal construct of an organisation, HR exerts power and control, but Social Leadership happens in ‘social’ communities, beyond the remit of this power. So we cannot own it, nor control it: indeed, attempting to do so will either empower it or kill it. Instead, our role shifts, to become one of nurturing and support, facilitation and enablement.
HR has historically been a mechanism, however well-intentioned, of power and control: today, it must evolve to hold a new space. Or it must permit the evolution of a new domain, a community domain, that can hold this space.
Peter: Your model grew out of the idea of Social Age? Why is it nowadays that important to have companies with ‘social leadership’?
Julian: Funnily enough, I usually say that my notion of the Social Age grew out of my thinking on Social Leadership! I started my journey into this exploring co-creation: how some communities are creative, innovative, and seem to hold an internal momentum. From there, I explored leadership in these spaces, and that cascaded up to the widest context of our evolved reality: once I realised the extent of social and ecosystem shifts that have occurred, I started to describe ‘the Social Age’.
It’s important for companies to have strong Social Leaders because we are seeing a general shift to social: a de-powering of formal systems, and the rise of democratised collectivism. Social Leaders form a sense-making capability, helping us figure out what to do, and then to do it.
In my own research, only 4% of leaders said that they were effective solely through their formal power alone: we are social creatures, and to lead socially is to lead with permission, through reputation, an earned form of power.
Peter: What are the three main characteristics a social leader should have?
Julian: Humility: to commit themselves to the community, to ensure that nobody is left voiceless, to listen to the views of others and thank them as they help us refine our own.
Fairness: in action and thought, to fight for fairness, to ensure that they do what is right, not just what is easy
Effective: because Social Leadership is not soft, fluffy, and additional to ‘real’ leadership: it’s a hard type of power. It gives access to our ‘Sense-Making’ communities, let’s us filter the signal from the noise.
Peter: Are we able to learn to be a social leader?
Julian: The question is not ‘can I learn to be a Social Leader’, but rather, can I be a good Social Leader. It took me a while to realise this. Social Leadership is power awarded by the community, but plenty of despots and bullies have this too. It’s like technology, neutral in itself, not inherently good.
But yes, you can learn to be a good Social Leader. My last book, ‘Social Leadership: my 1st 100 days’ is an attempt to do just that, to take people on a structured journey, to explore ten aspects of Social Leadership, and put them into practice every day.
Peter: What is the key to establishing Social Leadership in Management?
Julian: My view is that you don’t establish it in management, but rather that you have two, discreet, parallel systems: on one side, the formal, the hierarchy and power of the organisation. On the other, the social, the reputation based authority of Social Leadership. The trick is to maintain the creative and dynamic tension between the two. If you make the social systems ‘formal’, you just kill it. And if you subvert the formal system to be fully social, it’s very excitable, but may lose the ability to achieve effect, safely, at scale. So you probably need both. My idealist self hates this truth, but I do believe it to be true.
So we still need to do all the amazing things we already do, but on top of that, we must create spaces, support, and opportunity, to develop, empower, and recognise, Social Leadership.
Peter: Do you have advice for my students? How could my students prepare themselves for the challenge of “Social age“ or to become a Social Leader?
Julian: In the Social Leadership Handbook, I outline a journey, a developmental pathway, structured around nine components of Social Leadership:
Firstly, you curate your space, set your foundations, then learn to be an effective storyteller, considering authenticity and amplification. Share widely, but wisely. Consider your community, which ones you should join, start, or leave, and within those, how you develop reputation. The magic happens when your reputation is rewarded with social authority. Once you have this, you can look at co-creation, the sense-making aspect of communities, you can build, and have, high social capital, to ensure that nobody is left behind, and you can collaborate widely, and in great complexity.
Peter: Thank you very much for this insightful interview.