Is Twitter the Oracle of Leadership?

I just read a great post by Michael Hyatt that argues for Twitter as a leadership tool.  The basis of his argument is sound – he draws a straight line between leadership and influence, using Twitter to bridge the gap.  I certainly don’t disagree, after all leaders influence people.  That’s the very nature of a leadership role.  Nelson influenced the entire British Navy to win at Trafalgar.  Jesus influenced the masses in a manner that forms basis of a massive belief system.  Although it pains me to say it, Sarah Palin is even doing it within the Tea Party movement in the United States.  But here’s the thing.  They don’t do it with Twitter (or the version of their time); they did it by making connections.  Connections with actual people.

Don’t get me wrong – Twitter is great.  It allows for a great number of people to feel connected in a manageable way.  After all 140 characters certainly forces brevity.  And clarity follows from brevity (at least for successful messages or tweets).  Michael Hyatt and I agree: Twitter isn’t in and of itself, leadership. A little story to illustrate the point.  A couple of years ago, while at sea with the Navy, we found that my ship was relying on using the main broadcast system (a public address system by another name) to pass information.  Makes sense, right?  I mean, that’s what it’s for, isn’t it?  Here’s the thing, this broadcast method of communication operated in the same way the many folks use Twitter – you put your information out through it and hope for the best.  We found that, despite information being broadcast, our folks didn’t feel that they either knew what the heck was going on, or that we (as leaders) knew that they didn’t know what the heck was going on.  As my skipper at the time put it, “this [the main broadcast system] is not the oracle of leadership.”  And he was absolutely correct.

Back to influence and leadership.  In my view, influence results from personal connections.  It’s the direct result of what I have always heard referred to as leadership by walking around. Sure you can broadcast information, but it’s the connection you make with your target audience that yields results.  That simple process of walking around can help build that influence.  If you work in a major corporation, explore outside your office/cubicle/mail room etc.  If you work in a small organization, check out the lunchroom, talk to the delivery person.  Size and scope doesn’t matter – it’s the engagement with another actual person that does.  And, dare I say it, Twitter accounts are extensions of actual people – don’t confuse them with the actual person.

So how to can Twitter be of use in building influence or leadership by walking around?  Some simple ideas:

  • Build your audience carefully. Manage your Twitter profile the way you want to be seen.  In other words, if you want an account to share jokes and stories with your high school chums, great; make 2 accounts and keep your professional leader tweet-scape focused on the folks that need to hear from you.
  • Answer the mail. Nothing says dis-engagement like the busy signal of an unanswered question.  Leaders clarify goals by answering questions.  Extend the line further and you can see that leaders develop influence through questions (both asked and answered).  For Tweet’s sake, answer them should you be lucky enough to get them
  • Bring Value. Consider what information you want folks to get from your Tweet.  Attaching a news story without your context added to it doesn’t build influence.  At least not for you.  The primary author however, thanks you for simply passing on his or her message in the broadcast sense without diluting it from his or her goal.  After all, they wrote it for a purpose that 100% mirrors yours, right?
  • Bring Gifts.  Reciprocity is the name of the game.  If you are trying to influence others and they begin to follow you, acknowledge them. A simple Tweet like “Thanks for the follow” or Thanks for the RT” goes along way in building the connections beyond a thumbnail picture.

So, let’s debate.  Is Twitter the Oracle of Leadership?  Stories welcome.

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