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Leadership on the Web: Using social networking to teach and learn

In this response, expert Pete Walen describes how managers and decision makers can gain from regular interaction via social media.

You recently wrote about leadership and relationship building in preparation for the STP conference. How do you see social media as helping or hindering in these objectives? Do you have any advice for forming truly meaningful connections via social networking?

Well, to be a little more precise, I used Harry Potter as a model of technical leadership development. Now, that does not mean that appointed or positional leadership does not share certain aspects with what I think of as technical leadership. Rather, they are different aspects. To cite another idea from Harry Potter to answer your question, let me start by saying this:

If there is a group of you, you are more powerful than if you are alone.

It is a bit of a paraphrase, but you get the idea. 

Finding people you can bounce ideas around with or use as inspiration for your own studies and experiments is key in developing your skills and ideas. Social media sites can facilitate this. Meeting people at conferences, then connecting with them on LinkedIn or Twitter or Skype, or any of the other sites, is one way to keep in touch with their thoughts. Keeping an eye on their blogs, tweets, activities and the like can help you keep in touch with them and their thinking.

Likewise, you can ask them to read, proofread or comment on ideas you are trying to frame or express. 

I tend to tweet comments from meetings, conference sessions and training sessions as a form of taking notes. I can then pull some of these collections into a blog post or short essay and ask people for comments – either on the topic generally or on the paper. Thanks to contacts through social media, I have a hugely massive pool of people I can draw on to help me improve my thoughts, arguments and ideas. 

Where I may have one or two people I work with, or have worked with, to contact outside of social media, I now have people I can reach out to across North America, into Brazil and much of Europe within social media. Interestingly, some of these people are folks I have never met in person – only in cyber space. And it is amazing that some of these same people will ask for my comments on their writing as well.

That is kind of a key point. You need to be willing to help others as you are being helped.  

Can social media help the fledgling leader? Absolutely. Are there any suggestions around this? Certainly: Help others learn as you learn. That, perhaps more than anything else, will mark you as a leader. 

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