Social Leadership Handbook Review

Julian Stodd was kind enough to send me a preview copy of the Social Leadership Handbook. Although social leaders give freely, with no expectation of reciprocity, I feel that the least I can do in return is to write a review, having tweeted my way through the book as well.

I LOVE this book and I want all of my colleagues to read it to so we can ask some of the superb questions of our organisation suggested as the NET model is explored. One has ordered her own copy already – also to read on holiday as I did, and I’m ordering some more to gift to people. Paradoxically, I can’t bear to lend my copy out, as I know I’ll keep returning to sections to re-read and reflect, yet I haven’t written my name in it – as I don’t want to appear to claim ownership. If that sounds odd, it may seem less so once you have read it, and some of the excellent #WorkOutLoud blogs Julian Stodd and Seasalt Learning share so freely.

So, why did I love the ideas contained within this book so much? Well, I can only write about my own interpretation, within my own framework of experience, practice and context - how the ideas and concepts inspired me. Some background. Academically, I’ve studied ‘leadership’ - I wrote an MSc dissertation on leadership development and more recently updated my theoretical knowledge and application with an ILM 7 award in Strategic Leadership. I also hold a paid formal leadership position in a charity (after similar public sector roles), am the Chair of a local charity (a voluntary position), have my own consultancy, and in paid roles I have, in the last few years, always got involved with professional networks and national pieces of work. 


OK, so that’s the formal and academic credentials out of the way. I’m also active on Twitter, LinkedIn (to a lesser extent) and benefit greatly from the thinking and reflection being part of on line chats such as #ldinsight gives. I hope, but don’t expect, that the contributions I make in the socially networked space help others in their reflections, or in finding new or different ideas or articles/blogs to read, in the same way the contributions of many others on my #PLN do for me. What a clumsy sentence – anyway that’s my formal and informal context in a nutshell.


In my ‘formal’ studies of leadership theory, and in the personal practice I imperfectly strive for, my favourite approaches are Transformational, particularly Kouzes and Posner’s five behaviourally based ways that leaders can role model and Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership model. In the former, leaders are invited (some may say ‘prescribed’) to model the way, inspire shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act and to encourage the heart. What’s not to like? Servant leadership goes further in its provocation that in order to be truly attentive to the needs of followers and empowering them, leaders need to give up control. They build strong relationships, are empathetic, altruistic and ethical, and the aim to serve their organisation, their community, even society at large. What a tall order! With such intrinsic appeal (to me with my background and interests, anyway).



I included this because Julian is very careful to place Social Leadership in context throughout the book as working alongside formal leadership, and some of that formal leadership is more than OK. For me, that recognition that in most spaces both are happening, and often both need to happen, is very important. And as I read, I could see many elements of the two theories above blending with Social Leadership. I wondered if it was the next phase or level of the evolution of leadership theory. It may be, but at the moment, I’m inclined to think it’s more subtle, more intuitive, and a kind of dynamic overlay that requires agile and sophisticated thinking on the part of formal leaders and anyone who influences others. We are all leaders? I’m #WorkingOutLoud here. More thoughts will definitely evolve after I’ve shared this blog.

I’m not going to go through each section systematically, I've said plenty already. Here are a few more tweets on what stood out for me as I read. Certainly, when I read it next time, my personal context will have shifted and I may see different nuances.

If I have to find something less positive to say, I can only think that, in order to keep developing your practice and understanding of the meaning of the NET model, it needs to be read in full. Quite challenging in the Social Age of 140 characters and bombardment of information when loads of stuff competes for our attention - so very hard to distill meaning into one tweet. So for instance one tweet could focus on Social Capital, inclusion, not leaving anyone behind etc (As I seem to have done). Another tweet could focus on relinquishing any attempt by formal leaders to try to control this space. In isolation, these could look like different messages, but combined and in the context of the whole approach, they are so powerful.

Post Script 1.

I was persuaded onto Twitter about 5 years ago, by my boss at the time. I would argue that, a consumate networker and introducer in person, she also intrinsically understood the potential of Social Leadership, and started to practice this via Twitter, alongside her formal leadership. I blogged about this (TLC - Twitter, Leadership and Communication New meanings for a well loved acronym.) The CIPD used an edited version as a guest blog, but it disappeared when they updated the website with the new branding. Sadly, public sector cuts saw the government abolish the organisation I was working in then.

Post Script 2.

I included the theories of Kouzes and Posner and of Greenleaf above, and I alluded in tweets as I read, to my old Dissertation supervisor, Prof David Megginson, the tutor who has most influenced me, and whose ideas I have retained sustainably. I have to add here that the other writer who has made a very profound impression on me is Peter Senge. He wrote a handbook too...



  1. Thanks Annette, very enlightening blog and a book and I should and need to read !


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