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Leadership in a Social World: Influence is Better than Power

Chris Laping, CIO over at Red Robin, spoke at this year’s YamJam conference in San Francisco, and he said something in particular that really stuck with me: “I think there’s a continuum between influence and power…From an influence perspective I have a lot of friends and colleagues I’ve spoken to who say, ‘if someone just empowered me to do my job…,’ and I always wonder if those folks who think they need that empowerment have ever experienced influence, and the power of influencing an organization, and how much more meaningful and engaging that is than having somebody empower you.”

Social business tools help to enable and exponentially support this line of thinking. Ed Marx, CIO of Texas Health Resources, offered a complementary story about how his company used Yammer to bring together physicians across twenty-six hospitals in order to address the issue of urinary tract infections (turns out this is the number one hospital-acquired infection in the United States. Yikes.) At the end of this particular collaborative venture, it was a nurse — not a business leader — who successfully reformatted the protocol, shared it across the organization, and within twenty-four hours after implementing it, the instances of UTIs at Texas Health went down thirty percent.

“That’s probably my favorite story,” said Marx. “I love the fact that it was one of my staff, it wasn’t a manager or one of the directors–it was just, you know, one of our nurses.”

Empathy Strikes Back (Nicely)

For us non-leaders, it’s so great to finally feel like we have a voice. That we matter. That we really can effect change. But that doesn’t translate to less of a voice for existing leaders. In fact, complying with these shifts is hugely important for seasoned managers, especially as more and more Millennials enter the workforce. “Eighty-five percent of our workforce is Millenials,” noted Laping. “They don’t learn in analog and they certainly don’t like to work in analog.”

To remain influential as well as powerful, the key for leaders is that increasingly popular E word: empathy. And social tools enable the expression of that empathy on the scale leaders require.  “If you haven’t walked a mile in the shoes of the people who are expressing need, [these tools] at least allow you to get closer to the conversations and understand what those needs are,” said Laping in closing. “When you think about leaders and getting leaders engaged in these tools, I think it starts with a simple conversation: wouldn’t you like to know what it is people are talking about? Wouldn’t you like to know what people are worried about? The power of empathy is very transformative to an organization.”

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