Monday, 17 December 2007

Leadership and Social Acumen

As I posted on my People Business blog at HR Circles last week, social networks are important in helping HR deal with global people management challenges. They provide significant benefits to other business leaders too.

One of the most provoking blog posts I’ve read this month is Gill Corkindale's Harvard Business blog on the leadership crisis in the UK. Looking at the prime minister, the chancellor and the government, the Bank of England and its governor, and a couple of football managers (you can probably guess which ones), Corkindale notes a long string of leadership failures. Most of them, to me, see to have developed through these leaders being too remote from their organisations – a lack of social connection.

Lisa Haneberg’s blog, Management Craft has alerted me to Ram Charan’s latest book, Leaders at all Levels. Charan's explanation of ‘social acumen’ may help leaders build the sorts of networks they need if they’re to avoid the sorts of problems that currently seem to be so common in the UK:

"Leaders who possess it are not loners or bookworms. They have an innate desire to work with diverse people and naturally cultivate a broad range of social networks that permeate the company, including subordinates, peers, and superiors. As these leaders develop their social acumen, their networks often extend beyond the business to include customers, suppliers, regulators, politicians, and various interest groups. The relationships tend to be durable because they are built on trust, and that trust allows information to flow both ways, exposing the leader to new ideas and different ways to see things. The social networks also allow him or her to energize and synchronize people's energy and actions and to do a better job managing a crisis than would otherwise be the case."

Social acument isn't yet a common topic in many leadership development programmes, although rotating leaders across the organisation or bringing them together into formal leadership courses, may provide the basis for some of these networks to evolve.


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