Open Leadership – the social media challenge

Social media in education has brought about some significant changes. It has given teachers new ways to collaborate with each other – share innovation, share creativity, share knowledge, drive change.
In the podcast, “Selling Social Media Strategy to Leadership”, (Schwartzman, 2010), Charlene Li describes three trends in the new culture of sharing:
1. More people online
2. The widespread use of social sites
3. The rise of sharing
Li advocates a change to open leadership in order to foster new relationships, understand and govern these new relationships, and explains that there are new rules required such as:
– Respect that your customers and employees have power
– Share constantly to build trust
– Nurture curiosity and humility
– Hold openness accountable
– Forgive failure
In organisations, like schools, that are used to top/down control, astute leaders know they need to get closer to their employees but don’t want to lose that traditional control. This becomes a leadership issue – how do I understand this new world? How do I work and lead in a new way? This is creating a power shift whether leaders like it or not – leadership needs to be redefined.
Li explains the “10 elements of openness” that provide a framework for leaders to utilise these new ways of leading and build strong foundational relationships. Two areas of sharing emerge – Information Sharing and Decision Making. The decision becomes what to share and when.10 elements of openness
Leadership responsibilities require us to be circumspect in how we make decisions. How open you should be depends on the goals. In the past it was based on the notion of authority, how much the staff needed to be brought in for buy in… but now you can’t expect to produce a bulletin… now people demand information (Li in Schwartzman, 2010).
It’s all about the overall relationship with the people you’re trying to reach and in schools this can be particularly challenging because of the levels of leadership and the participation of school executive, teachers, students and the wider community. Social media is a great tool for building community and gives the audience choices about how to buy into their relationship with the school. This “buy in” depends on the nature of the relationship of the individual with the school. The outward facing aspects of Facebook provide strong connection network opportunities for students and their families.
Meanwhile, teaching staff involvement in social networks and the development of a PLN (Professional Learning Network) can circumvent traditional lines of communication and produce a “catch up” scenario for school executive. New initiatives from institutional hierarchies are commonly now released via social media announcements rather than being communicated through traditional levels of ‘gatekeepers of information’. This can lead to expectations of shortened response times and planning requirements and place additional pressures on school executives to be responsive and well-informed.
Social media and the sharing culture ensures that the modern notion of leadership cannot ignore the impact of formal and informal groups, and the interaction between and among those groups (Paus, 2013). As groups form and begin to communicate, the transmitters and receivers establish paths of influence. Degrees of influence are developed and networks are built. The influences occur gradually changing meanings and behaviors that will affect the whole group and stimulate more connections, increasing sharing or affecting network connections. Once these groups build lines of communication, the group lives an experience which results in the sharing of influence, and provides new opportunities to develop and exhibit leadership.

For school executives this can result in knowledge influencers being established amongst all levels of leadership within the school and can shift expectations. The modern school leader needs to embrace this change and accept that “permission to know” is no longer their exclusive province but may happen organically within groups that reach beyond the school gate. A strong leader will see this as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Paus, V. (2013) New media and leadership: Social media and open organisational communication. [online] In Change and Leadership. Vol.17. Available at:

Schwartzman, E. (2010) Selling social media strategy to leadership with Charlene Li. [online]. Available at:

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