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Social Networking:
It's Smart Business

By Dr. Russ Ouellette, DM

Do you know how to Twitter? Have a Facebook or Linked In account? Social networking is all the rage, and those in the business world who fail to understand the power of the network to relate will fail to understand the new way of leading.

Networking once looked like a social event before a conference. Now it is a new frontier that includes Web sites that allow us to collect and manage information and communicate openly. In the workplace, this means the limitless organizational structure has arrived. Now that the Internet allows people free access to one another, and the informal network of relationships and its power is set free, so is the formula for leadership success.

Working harder is no longer as valued as working smarter. The contemporary focus is on the knowledge worker, a self-thinking and operating individual who holds newer operating principles. And the knowledge worker needs a better platform, which we have in the Internet.

As our employees, communities, and children continue to embrace the new realities of social relationships for results, our leadership must also take advantage of the tremendous power of relationships. Leadership finds utility in every relationship formed. Modern leadership requires people to interact more to yield results. People must think as a team while still acting individually to find the resources they need to contribute value to the team.

Networking provides the vehicle for people to reach across and outside an organization to find resources for information and action. The first piece of advice we give anyone who is looking for a job is to reach out to their network. While it is intuitive that our network has value while job seeking, why is it less intuitive that we use it for other leadership purposes? Leaders directly benefit from networking behaviors, and most successful leaders use it to their advantage.

In a study of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), it was found that those leaders who sought advice from only their close contacts were at a decision-making disadvantage (McDonald & Westphal, 2003). This is why CEOs sit on other Boards, why they go to conferences, and continually reach outside their organization for information and access. The Internet tools now available provide a powerful tool for building, maintaining and keeping abreast of information and who holds that information.

Studies show that leaders who extended their networks beyond those they have immediate access to (internal team of staff and employees) realize better strategic outcomes. Therefore, leaders find benefit from an understanding of social networks available to them. Leaders who are aware of relationships with others may be able to better identify opportunities and gaps in relationships with peers and competitors, ultimately finding more information that will impact their decision making. Furthermore, leaders who support their direct reports in developing their own extended networks may realize more information and opportunities for their organization. Think of the power these Internet tools provide the savvy leader. They extend the leader's reach and effectiveness.

A leader who allows his or her organization the same advantages of network awareness and benefits may improve organizational culture, productivity and overall performance results. Leaders can create forums for people to reach across and outside organizations for value. Transformational leaders have a clear understanding that they cannot do it alone and leverage their followers to fulfill their mission.

Those utilizing social networking do not need a study to convince them of the value. Through Linked In, I found out a peer was looking for papers on my research. A quick email to him asking for his collaboration resulted in a paper being published together. Through Twitter, I can share ideas with other executive advisors about what is new, what's on others' minds and find innovative ideas about leadership.

Let me provide the simplest example of the free and open system of the Internet adding leadership value. My 15-year-old son has a Facebook page. One condition for allowing this was that I have a page too, and I am considered one of his Facebook friends. This allows me access to his world, provides me information, and allows me to relate to him for the purposes of his development. Basically, I can still be an example to him through this new form of relationship. The thought of him participating in this open relationship world, and me not, means that I can no longer lead him well.

Leaders who do not take advantage of all that social networking has to offer also will not be leading well. It's only smart business.

Dr. Russ Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm. He can be reached at (603) 472-8103 or russ@sojournpartners.com. He can also be twittered @RussOuellette or Facebooked – Sojourn Partners.

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