Digital Leadership – 10 top tips from @clarkmike

twitter at smwldnIs a ‘digital’ leader any different from a ‘traditional’ leader? Following on from top ten tips on social media, Mike Clark suggests some of the likely characteristics of digital leaders.

1 You don’t have to be a techie

Digital leaders do not have to be experts on tech detail, but need to understand how to exploit it to make connections and achieve good outcomes that make a difference

2 You don’t need an organisation

Digital leaders don’t always have organisations, budgets or staff – they don’t need structure charts – they may have more connections and followers outside of their own organisations

3 Its 24/7/365 and chaotic

Digital leaders operate in a 24/7/365 disrupted & chaotic world not cosy hierarchies, clubs and niches – they build new connections & collaborations at speed – they may be on their own but they communicate extensively

4 You listen more to people with opposing views

Digital leaders seek out people with different views and perspectives to understand how barriers can be overcome – they have wide reach, they question and challenge, summarise and synthesise, simplify and de-clutter when necessary

5 Restrict social media access and you may lose your followers

If organisational managers restrict social media access in work hours, staff will find digital leaders out of hours operating 24/7/365 in open, accessible environments. Equally, giving staff access to social media is unlikely to turn around a poorly led organisation

6 Inspire in 140 characters & trust your staff

If as a leader you are not able to summarise your vision in simple terms in 140 characters, someone else on social media will probably be the inspiration for your staff. Sadly, staff are often forced to leave their digital skills at the office door – digital leaders help nurture and develop those skills

7 Be courageous

It takes courageous leaders to allow their own hierarchies to be disrupted – digital leaders can build external followers before looking at how they can develop & engage their own organisations. Digital leadership is not the role of the Comms Team

8 Use multiple platforms to source ideas and communicate success 

Digital leaders use social media on multiple platforms as a test bed for their ideas and innovations – crowdsourcing, cajoling, capturing and continuously looking for and communicating small wins

9 Think real time, not part time

Digital leaders acknowledge sources, build trust and show appreciation in real time using multiple platforms that work for their connections and followers who appreciate the recognition of their contributions

10 Review and dismantle barriers

Digital leaders review and dismantle traditional infrastructures that act as barriers to innovation or which do not add value – they support and champion people that are close to service users and customers – they help people unlearn bad habits & some non-digital skills that impede progress

Mike Clark has worked as an independent consultant in health and social care since 1992. You can currently find him reporting on telehealth, telemedicine, telecare, digital and mHeath as well as UK health and social care for or Google at ‘Mike Clark Telecare’ 

11 responses to “Digital Leadership – 10 top tips from @clarkmike

  1. So, I find myself in an uncomfortable position here, but, hey-ho, life is never simple. So here is my quandary: I agree with every single point from 1 – 10. I endorse every single social media virtue you describe. I contest some of the sub conclusions, but that may be sector specific [eg I don’t think that in the NHS ” staff will find digital leaders out of hours operating 24/7/365″]. I don’t know how this generalises,l but healthcare professionals aren’t in the business of ‘finding leaders’ (in my view). But this is a small thing, what I think we need to address as a community united by a vision of digital communication bringing huge rewards to individuals and organisations in tandem, is whether the language of ‘leadership’ is appropriate.
    My internet is leaderless, and *therefore* fertile, serendipitous, constantly challenging and inclusive. If we buy into leader talk we (in my opinion – I think this is key so I invite the debate) we start to pollute the very heart of what’s positive about social media by raising one voice above another.
    It is probable that leaders will emerge, but
    1. they must emerge through consensus, not technique
    2.they must understand that the status of ‘leader’ is as ephemeral as that of an X-Factor winner.
    Leadership is the worst possible model for social media (I expect I will type this more than once in the next few years). This doesn’t mean that I want anyone to ignore what I consider to be the 10 Virtues of Social Media Interaction as you list them. They are excellent pointers to how to engage authentically. Nevertheless, every time someone provides advice on how to be a ‘leader’ they should understand that they risk being perceived as a representative of old, off-line, established hierarchies (again, in my opinion). If engagement is to work it can’t be a one way street with ‘leaders’ controlling the arrows.
    Last point (promise). I don’t want to lead anyone, I just want to put my opinion out there – when people agree, Cool, when they don’t, then let’s debate – to at least (and not beyond) the point where we ‘get’ each other…or stop.
    But what do you think?

  2. Great points Bryn

    I find little to challenge or disagree with.

    On ‘NHS staff finding digital leaders 24/7/365’ – there are plenty of discussions around health, care and many other relevant subjects from California (-8 hours) to Australia (+10 hours) on social media for those that want to follow or join in (eg You can follow leaders and experts from around the world in realtime or an extended/shifted timeline via social media that suits your lifestyle, work patterns and interests.

    In the health and care sector, there are currently few people in traditional leadership and managerial positions in the Department of Health, NHS England, CQC, Monitor, Foundation Trusts, CCGs, local authorities, NICE that could meet many of the ten points – think about how many people from these top teams that are on Twitter, Facebook etc and how many social media initiatives are given to the Comms Team. I think that is a problem. The good news is that people can get their inspiration and motivation from others in the UK & elsewhere around the clock but this may not align with the messages from politicians and policy makers.

    Even if you dispense with the term ‘leadership’, I think that healthcare professionals (and others) do probably look for leadership traits – people who are inspirational, visionary, champions, supportive of ideas and contributions from the workforce, recognising challenges and breaking down barriers. People who we look out for regularly to see what they are saying about something of interest to us. People whose ideas resonate with our own. People who take a stand or generously share a great idea or acknowledge that valuable nugget of information we have uncovered or people that have summarised something really complex that now makes sense. People who can catalyse and organise when needed but can also take a backseat and just join the crowd. Some digital leaders may have different views to our own but it helps shape our thinking around a subject.

    I agree that we can question some of the traditional language of leadership and agree with your points on serendipity, a constantly challenging environment and inclusion. Some leaders will emerge through consensus and will be enduring. Much of it in future will be ephemeral – around a project, a movement for change, a particular debate, an article, a controversial statement – many digital leaders will only be as good as their last blog post or tweet, some never to be heard of again. The era of position-based leadership has eroded considerably with social media – that is probably why we see so few top tier health and care people actively engaging as it is a challenge to traditional hierarchies.

    I suspect the debates over whether we call it leadership or not in a digital world will continue but somehow or other we have to get ideas into action, we have to get better at what we do, we have to motivate and support key workers, we have to improve outcomes and quality of life, we have to grow as a country – the good news, in my view, is that digital connectedness offers us some exciting opportunities and there are some people out there sharing some great stuff – we need to grasp the opportunities while they are open to us.

    Looking forwards to more comments and contributions.


  3. Paul Taylor

    Great post. Picking up on the comment from Bryn – I agree that the language of leadership could be unhelpful in the long term. However – the only reason we are talking about this is the relatively low digital presence of people in current positions of responsibility and offline influence.

    Organisations that have crossed the digital rubicon (I work in one) start to see strange things happen to this thing we call leadership:

    New “leaders” emerge as talent identifies itself and a community builds around strong voices. Ephemeral? Yes , you’re as good as your last tweet.

    Offline Leaders see their power and influence wane – by being invisible online they slowly remove themselves from view- observed particularly amongst Generation Y as they ask “Who are they?”

    Structure charts become meaningless as teams and departments become more fluid and networked.

    Whatever we call it, by failing to adopt at least some of the 10 behaviours above traditional leaders are at risk of losing their title. To paraphrase my own CEO in a message to our Leadership Academy “You can’t call yourself a leader anymore if you don’t do digital”.

  4. Hi Guys, thanks for your replies to my comments.
    Mike, thanks for clarifying what you meant by “If organisational managers restrict social media access in work hours, staff will find digital leaders out of hours operating 24/7/365 in open, accessible environments” My point to this was more that although its true that staff can and will engage with digital outside of office hours, I don’t think they’ll be looking for leaders as much as resources, answers, sharing they’re own and others’ best practice, professional and emotional support. What is likely is that they will become digital ‘leaders’ in their teams, and, as that is a good thing, I agree that managers are just putting obstacles in the way of these benefits if they restrict access. I also agree that if a business is broken, it won’t be fixed by giving permission, but it might be helped by adopting a positive and explicit social media engagement strategy.

    Hey Paul, yes I’ve seen the Gangnam video – that Rubicon is well and truly crossed 🙂

    I think you’re (both) right that the focus in healthcare now has to be on engaging those in a position to make changes and take action, and that conversation can be held in terms of ‘leadership’ (whatever that term may turn out to mean on the other side of the Rubicon)

    I read a couple of things Mike tweeted links to recently that focussed on the coaching element in leadership (The Leader as a Coach & via @clarkmike ). This gels more with my experience in the NHS of managers seeing themselves, genuinely, as holding a supporting and enabling role. The best ones certainly ask themselves ‘how can I support and develop my team to get the best out of them and so they can get the best out of themselves’. Which I believe is an admirable approach.

    So, I believe we are all on the same page, but in addition to supporting and promoting the inspirational digital leaders we should also celebrate the industrious & conscientious digital coaches, and encourage them in pushing for access for their teams to the immeasurable benefits of social media.

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