You can read the business and academic literature all you want but to learn how to change the world in 2009, you’d be well advised to listen to two contemporary change agents: Seth Godin and Chris Brogan. Both understand how the rules of engagement and leadership have changed as a result of connectivity.
Seth started life as a marketer. In his current incarnation, he acts as interpreter and popularizer of modern culture with a gift of the gab and a knack for attention grabbing titles. He has recognized that the art of persuading people to buy a product is remarkably similar to persuading them to follow you. In both cases, the task is not so much about selling but in enabling people to do what they yearned to do – achieve a personal goal and feel a part of something bigger than their individual selves. Seth’s most recent book is Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.
Chris Brogan describes himself as a ten year “veteran” of using social media and both web and mobile technologies to build digital relationships for businesses, organizations, and individuals. Brogan learned the art of leading by accident when he started Podcamp – an event designed to help others learn about how to use social media. Podcamp spread as a concept and now operates in 90 countries. Brogan recently published Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust that, partly thanks to his own tribe, just entered the New York best sellers list. FastCompany are publishing excerpts here.
The writing style used in both books is so similar I wonder if they shared a similar editor/ghost writer. For those of you with long journeys ahead, they are good reads but the contents of their combined 400+ pages can be summarized thus:
- Find and focus on a Cause – let's face it, there’s no shortage. Brogan calls this “be the priest or build the church’. In other words find a group of passionate believers and or something worth changing or building and use the web to create and strengthen relationships around a common purpose. Most leaders start out as heretics – challenging the status quo and only later become heroes. To quote Godin: So three questions I'd offer you. The first one is, who exactly are you upsetting? Because if you're not upsetting anyone, you're not changing the status quo. The second question is, who are you connecting? Because for a lot of people, that's what they're in it for. The connections that are being made, one to the other. And the third one is, who are you leading? Because focusing on that part of it, not the mechanics of what you're building, but the who, and the leading part is where change comes.
- Sustain curiosity – in the cause, yes, but, more importantly, in the followers. As Brogan says – “make it about them.” Constantly focus attention on the followers. In Brogan’s words, they are the rockstars. In William Gibson’s words “intelligence is distributed”. The genius emerges from the group but is supplied one bright idea at a time from an individual. It pays to identify and resonate with their autobiographical filters. Successful movements have coherence – their members’ mindsets are in alignment.
- Connect –Godin argues that what people want more than anything is to be missed on the day they don’t show up. He's just created an exclusive online community for those who signed up first. Brogan identifies that there’s something huge about belonging, being on the inside and having exclusive access. Sadly, while exclusivity may be the force that binds, it's also the force that separates and look how that works when issues as complex as health care are up for debate.
- Charisma – Godin suggests that charisma comes from leading. The quality and power of charisma to attract more followers emerges as individuals exercise leadership – simply because most of us want to be led. The celebrated psychologist Erich Fromm in the 50s also identified that few of us want to exercise responsibility either so a charismatic leader provides two services for the price of one!
- Simplicity – Brogan identifies the importance of keeping the message and the platform as simple as possible and I would add as actionable as you can. People want something to do – as well as to believe in.
- Commitment – don’t be deflected. Leading change takes time, patience and persistence but remember that you don’t need everyone. Quality of commitment is better than quantity and a 1000 committed, passionate followers or fans might be sufficient. It was the “few” that won Britain’s air battle in the last war; resistance fighters numbered in the thousands not millions and paved the way for a continent's liberation.
- What’s your cause?
- Who will you lead?
- Are there other qualities we’ve missed here
- Who are your heroes and which agents of change have inspired you?
In subsequent blogs, I'll highlight more contemporary agents of change.In the meantime, sit back and enjoy Seth's inspirational presentation at TED last year.