How Engaged Leaders Use Mobility To Build Brands & Businesses

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When I recently learned that author and Altimeter CEO, Charlene Li, had a new book coming out and that she was open to doing interviews and guest posts, I leapt at the opportunity.

By way of background, I met Charlene nearly eight years ago at a conference I was running. Charlene was a VP at Forrester Research at the time and was in the process of co-authoring her award winning book, Groundswell. I knew of Charlene and her pioneering ways in the world of social media.

My colleague Jim Storer and I were conducting a series of podcasts at the conference and convinced one another that we just had to interview Charlene. Problem was, she was literally flying in for the conference late the night before, speaking and then flying out, leaving us very little time to connect. Us being creative thinkers, and Charlene being a good sport, we offered to pick her up at the airport in a limo and conduct the interview in the car.

Fast forward eight years, and Charlene and I still keep in touch. She is now on her fourth book — this one targeted at senior (and engaged) leaders. In her guest column below, you’ll learn more about how mobility is creating and supporting engaged leaders. Thank you, Charlene!

Charlene Li


by Charlene Li

There’s no doubt that mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have changed the nature of work. We can now work anywhere, anytime, freeing us from the confines of a central office. While employees enjoy this new found flexibility, managers and leaders often view these developments with trepidation as they lose day-to-day physical proximity.

The key to leadership success in the mobile era is to use this technology to lead and engage in new and different ways, both internally and externally.

With the constraints of time and space largely eliminated, leaders can personally engage with individuals or groups through multiple touch points, thereby cultivating and transforming relationships purposefully. Discussions can be far more fluid, leading to a deeper ongoing relationship that aligns people around common objectives. Engagement is, after all, a strategic type of dialogue that extends beyond engaging employees to engaging customers, partners, and shareholders of every stripe.

In my new book, The Engaged Leader, I lay out a framework for how to be engaged. This model has three parts, which are fluid and overlap:

  • Listen at Scale
  • Share to Shape
  • Engage to Transform

Mobility frees you to be more spontaneous and frequent in terms of how you engage as a leader because you can now listen, create and share content, and engage all through a mobile device.

One of my favorite examples of a leader doing this is David Thodey, the CEO of Telstra, the largest telecommunications company in Australia. Each morning, Thodey, a renowned early riser, grabs a cup of coffee and his device.

He looks through his enterprise social network on Yammer to review the overnight activity. He scans it to see what the general vibe of the organization is. Scrolling down Telstra’s activity feed allows him to quickly see which ideas or dilemmas are generating a lot of discussion; which are important. This is listening at scale, where you listen with your eyes.

For an example of mobile-enabled sharing, let’s take a look at Rosemary Turner, president of UPS North California District, who is charged with overseeing 17,000 employees — every manager, staff member, driver, and dispatcher in the territory.

Turner’s biggest concern each day is supporting employees on the move across San Francisco’s main arteries. Twitter links her easily and instantly to thousands of drivers out in the field in trucks or to sales executives visiting major accounts. It’s a platform that UPS employees are comfortable with because many were already using it to connect with each other. Stay away from the Bay Bridge — there’s an accident; Remember, the Giants game starts at 5:30; and so on.

The insight and intelligence that Turner shares across her domain allows her to connect informally with people across the organization. She uses Twitter to broadcast to everyone at all levels of the company.

Because of the goodwill she has established through sharing, and the way that she shares, employees feel validated, and Turner’s influence within UPS is elevated. Because of what she shares in social channels, her people trust her, and the credibility she has earned pays dividends that allow her to build followership and shape performance.

Here’s an example of Turner recognizing a UPS employee on Twitter for work well done:

The last way to leverage mobility is to engage in a more fluid, real-time way. Even if you’re out of the office, you’re able to reach out and respond quickly to employees and customers.

Here are two quick examples, again from Telstra CEO, David Thodey. The first is when he asked the entire company via their enterprise social network, “What processes and technologies should we eliminate?” The question received 700 responses within one hour – with many responding via their mobile devices. These comments gave Thodey an intimate look into what wasn’t working at Telstra.

charlene post tweet 2Thodey also personally engages with people in digital channels, especially on Twitter. Here he is responding to a customer complaint.

Thodey makes it look easy, mostly because he comes to this with a background in anthropology (as an undergrad in college) and a natural disposition to engage. But the reality is that personal external engagement is something that Thodey approaches with great care and a lot of advance planning. He is concerned primarily about his ability to consistently engage with customers, and he doesn’t want to set expectations that he can’t meet.

His solution is having backup – a member of Thodey’s communications team scans Twitter and alerts him to any issues that require his attention. Then it’s up to him to decide when and how to engage and respond, which he does personally and often from his smartphone.

Initially, Thodey was concerned that the time spent engaging would be all-consuming, but when I asked him how he manages to keep up, his response was telling. He shrugged and said, “I jump into customer issues because it’s dear to my heart.”

If someone takes the time to reach out to him directly, he explained, it usually means that person has exhausted all other avenues for resolution. With this type of customer contact connected to a strategic goal, Thodey finds interstitial time to flick through Twitter or take a spin through Yammer. He reflected, “People overestimate how much time it takes, but it’s really just a few minutes here and there.”

If you have leaders in your organization who have the desire to get engaged with employees and customers in digital channels, I strongly encourage you to enable them to do this via their mobile devices. Leaders are more willing to engage when it involves their strategic goals – and you never know when inspiration will hit. So take advantage of the freedom that mobility provides by allowing and actively encouraging your leaders to lead in a different way.


Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
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