Organizational alignment is tough enough when employees are under one roof. But with teams spread across multiple locations--corporate branches or home offices, for example--CMOs are challenged with keeping everyone on the same strategic page.
That is where technology comes into play, according to Charlene Li, CEO of Altimeter Group, whose new book, “The Engaged Leader: A Strategy For Digital Transformation,” makes the case for leaders to embrace digital technology as a means of engaging and inspiring talent.
CMO.com spoke to Li about what it means to be a leader in the age of digital.
CMO.com: You just published a new book at the beginning of March. What’s it about and who do you hope will read it?
Li: The book was written for all these leaders who know that they have to become more digital as an organization, engage with customers externally, and engage with each other as employees internally.
They turn around and have told the organization to go be engaged, go be digital, and then they look at themselves and realize they have no idea how to do it themselves. The book is essentially about what it means to be a leader in this digital era and to be extending your leadership into these digital and social channels.
CMO.com: You could have written a book about anything. Why did you choose this topic specifically?
Li: I kept meeting leaders who just were not active or didn’t have a plan. There’s not a single CMO out there today who isn’t thinking about digital, and yet when it comes to their personal use of these tools, they’re at a loss. They don’t know what they should be doing, can be doing, and especially how to use digital to achieve their leadership goals.
I wrote the book to talk about the importance of having a personal digital strategy. In many cases they have to go through a transformation of where they are today to becoming an engaged leader.
CMO.com: So organizations are putting together plans for digital transformation and social and employee engagement, and leadership isn’t setting the example?
Li: Exactly. I would look at these programs and get called in again and again, with leadership asking, “Why isn’t our program working?” Over and over again the executives themselves were not involved.
They may be waving the flag on the sidelines going, “Yeah, do it. Great. Do it.” But because they didn’t show up and engage and use these tools themselves or set the tone or demonstrate through their personal engagement and involvement, nobody else thought it was important either.
So adoption may have been high in the beginning, or they may have tried doing it, but if you don’t have the tangible case examples of your leader buying into this and doing this rather than just waving the flag, the whole thing just starts dying.
CMO.com: Lead by example, as they say. If you had to narrow it down, what are some of the tips for CMOs embarking on their personal digital transformation? What are some of the first steps?
Li: I think the most important one is to start with your leadership goals when you’re thinking about these digital channels. It’s so easy to fall into the trap, “What am I going put onto Twitter?” Or, “What am I going to do on our internal social network?” Don’t think about the channels. Think about who you’re trying to influence to take a particular action. What are the goals that you’re trying to achieve and, in particular, what is the type of relationship you want to form overall with these people that you’re trying to lead and to ask them to take specific action?
Once you have that clearly in mind, I break it down to the content. Very specifically, I ask the leaders to think about the stories they will tell that will inspire the action they want to see because leaders across the board are fantastic storytellers. They all know how to talk. They know how to define their leadership purpose and align everyone else in the organization. That’s what they need to talk about constantly and use the digital channels to not only talk but to eventually engage people around these topics, as well. It’s one thing to talk, but the engagement part, that is what really drives it home.
CMO.com One of the big points in your book is that leaders need to master a new way of developing relationships. Can you expand on what that means?
Li: Leadership is just a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who are inspired to follow. I think leaders intuitively understand that they have to build a relationship with people they are leading. They typically have done this very well face-to-face. You sit down and you talk to somebody. You can look them in the eye and then you can say, “We’re good, right?” You can see and verify that.
But in this day and age where you’re leading teams that are remote, you don’t see each other very often. You have to move fast. How do you do that? I think one of the key opportunities is to use these digital channels to be a leader, to establish those relationships.
CMO.com: What’s holding some leaders back from embarking on this personal digital transformation?
LI: I think there are two things. First of all, there’s this switch that goes off in some people’s head. It’s technology and the switch goes off. They feel like they don’t know how to use this technology. That freezes the leadership part of their brain.
What I’m trying to do with the book is to say you know how to be a leader. Be a leader first. Know what you want to accomplish as a leader and then figure out the technology to help you do that.
CMO.com: Anything you want to leave our readers with?
Li: More than anything else, this book is a road map for how to get started. What I’m really trying to ask leaders to do is, at a minimum, listen to what the people you are trying to lead are saying via digital channels.