The Leadership Choice

I am not much of a creative writer, but please be patient with my attempt at storytelling.

There once was a great and powerful king who was known for being a kind and just king.  He owned a vast kingdom that stretched further than the eye could see.  It included mountains, rivers, forests, beaches, meadows, towns, large cities and was filled with citizens who loved their king and their kingdom.  People would come to this king’s court from far and wide to seek his advice on how to manage a kingdom and inspire such happy people.  The king was generous with his time and made sure each person he received felt they had his undivided attention.

One day, a stranger from a foreign land came to the court.  He requested an audience with the king. The stranger was lead into a grand hall mirrored the wealth of the land and it was filled with light from every corner.  There seemed to be no place for darkness to hide in this great hall.  The stranger approached the king and bows before him.  The king proceeds to welcome him and asks the stranger about the purpose of his audience.  The stranger replies, “Dear King, I have heard stories of your greatness.  Your wisdom, generosity, your political acumen, your mastery of diplomacy, and how you have built this amazing country.  I see these stories do not exaggerate.  I see with my own eyes these things are true.  But today I come before you to ask you how you are able to grow the most amazing apples I have ever tasted.  I have come to learn the secret of these amazing apples”.

Photo courtesy of the film King Arthur (Buena Vista Pictures 2004)

Well, the king found that for the first time he did not have an answer.  The king was very perplexed.  Many people from far and wide had come to hear his wisdom and to learn from him.  But none had ever asked a question like this before.  How could this be?  He is the most powerful person in his kingdom.  He has ridden through all parts of the kingdom.  He can name all the products they export to other lands, he can tell you stories about brokering deals with other nations, about finding ways to provide for his people, and yet he didn’t seem to know the answer to this simple question.

After much thought and a silence that seemed to last forever the king finally replied.  He told the stranger that he did not know the answer, but if the stranger would come back in two days he would be able to provide him with the answer.

On the third day, the stranger came back to court to obtain the answer to his question.  When he arrived everything looked the same in the grand hall except near the king were a number of people who had not been there the last time the stranger appeared in front of the king.  After the exchange of formal greetings the king told the stranger, “I thought a lot about your question and realized I cannot answer your question.  Since I cannot answer your question I have brought you all the people who are experts in producing our apples for you to hear how they have created our apples”.  And with that each expert in turn talked about his area of expertise and how it was part of the larger process for creating these apples.  The stranger heard from  a botanist who were interested in how apple trees reproduce and how to create hybrids that would produce the right fruit with the least amount of effort.  He heard from a pedologist and a agronomist about how they cultivate the soil and ensure it properly prepared for the apple trees.  He heard from the farmers who have been growing this fruit, pruning the trees, and selling them at the market.  All of these discussions were fascinating to the stranger and proved to be very informative too.  The discussions lasted all day.

As the day was coming to a close, the king asked the stranger if he had received the answer he wanted.  The stranger replied, “Oh mighty king, you are indeed wise and knowledgeable.  You have shown me the richness of your kingdom and have provided me with more information on my question than I could possibly imagine.  Through my discussions with your experts I have learned how you have succeed in cultivating your amazing apples.  I hope to take this knowledge and teach my countrymen to do similar things with their fruit crops.”  And with some additional parting words the stranger left the king and his kingdom full of joy about all he had learned.  He was also excited and had a renewed faith in himself and his people to be able to apply what he had learned to his fruit crops.

After the stranger had departed, the king sat in silence for a long time contemplating the turn of events and found he was pleased that he was able to help the stranger.  He also began to wonder if it was a sign of weakness or perhaps bad leadership that he had not known the answer to the question the stranger had.  He wracked his brain trying to see what other alternatives there were, but found he could not think of any.

Over the next couple of days the king found himself lost in thought trying to figure out if it was his responsibility to know about his kingdom’s apples.  This was starting to eat away at the king as he wondered how people would perceive him if they knew he did not know how the kingdom’s apples were created.  Finally, after days of torturing himself he went to see his old mentor.

The king’s mentor was a very old man who was half blind.  No one was really sure how old he was, since none could remember a time when he was not there or was not old.  That being said it was a well known fact that this old man knew the entire history of the kingdom and was wise in the ways of the world that no one else seemed capable of matching.  For these reasons alone he held a place of honor in the royal household.

Photo courtesy of t3mujin

The king arrived, sans entourage, to talk to his mentor.  After listening intently to the king’s tale about the stranger and his self doubts, the mentor posed a question to the king, “Wouldn’t you agree that the world is indeed vast and it is impossible to know all there is know about the world?”  “Yes” the king responded, “I know it is impossible for any mortal to know everything about the world.”  “If this is true, then isn’t it also true that a wise man will always find the wisest person to address the issue at hand?” the mentor queried.  The king had not thought of it this way before.

As he reflected on what his mentor was saying he realized how right he was.  He realized he did not have to know everything about his kingdom, but he did need to know who all of his experts were so that when they were needed the king’s assistants would know who to call.  The king also realized how lucky he was to have such amazing professionals who are talented and have spent their careers honing their skills and their craft.  It was then that the king started looking at his people in a new way.  He realized that the kingdom wasn’t just a name or his name and face, but it was about the people that lived there and who helped make the kingdom was it is today.  With their skills and expertise and with the leadership of the king the kingdom had grown and prospered.  Without the work of all these people the kingdom would not be the same place it is today.  The king also realized that part of the reason why people knew him as a wise and generous king had a lot to do with not only his accomplishments, but perhaps even more so the accomplishments of his people.  The king made a promise to himself to find all of those people in his kingdom who have a certain expertise.  He wanted to ensure that he cultivated these talents and helped share them since not only would he be seen as wise king for doing so, but these experts may learn something from these discussions that could help the kingdom continue to be a prosperous place.

In a social media age, the people who work for you are your greatest asset.  You carefully hire them, invest in training them, and rely on them to do their part in contributing to the success of the organization.  These people are not just the people who get a paycheck from you, but are also a reflection of you, your organization, and your brand.  They are the brand’s essence.  They are your brand ambassadors.  People have always been asking them about their job and about your organization, but now these conversations can occur in a more public forum allowing for employees comments to impact how your organization is perceived.  You may not be able to control social, but you can help cultivate employees to be better at fielding questions about the organization, your products, services, and generally what type of culture you have.  By leveraging these brand ambassadors, you help shape your public image and this can result in greater public awareness.  Some of this awareness may also result in more transactions, although this will be harder to track.

So instead of putting the fear of God into your employees for using social or saying they have no rights to social media accounts in their personal capacity, empower and train them to say the right things.  Encourage them to conduct outreach on your behalf, speak at both formal and informal events, talk about their work and experiences with your organization.  There may be a few issues that may be problematic, but those should be handled just like any other management issue.  For the most part, I think you will find people will be responsible.

You do have a choice.  You can be the king who recognized the value of empowering his people or you can be the organization that is ruled by an iron fist.  You may think this will work, but people will find a way to express themselves and by that point they will be beyond listening to you.  Recognize there is no controlling social or people’s use of social.  The best approach is embrace it and stay engaged with your employees use of these new engagement tools.  The choice is yours.


This entry was posted in Government, Lovisa A. Williams, Open Leaders, Organizational Transformation, People and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Leadership Choice

  1. Pam Broviak says:

    I like how you have weaved this message into your story. It is a true leader who has the courage and wisdom to support and guide rather than punish and discipline. People work harder and are more loyal and respectful when their leaders respond to problems by treating them as learning experiences rather than opportunities to hand down sentences. It all seems so obvious, yet I continue to see people in leadership fail to realize this basic concept. Thanks for a great story!

  2. Thanks Pam! I don’t think this issue is unique to social, but I do think it is becoming less of an issue of choice and more of a requirement that our organizations evolve towards a more social model. I am curious to hear how this issue is impacting people’s organizations. I am interested in hearing the positives, the negatives, and of course what your plan is.

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