Speaking with Charlene Li

Charlene Li, CEO & Principal Analyst, Altimeter GroupAs a Charlene Li fan from way back, I was delighted to be able to interview Charlene for the Let’s Talk Leadership show.

Charlene is the Founder, CEO and Principal Analyst of Altimeter Group and the author of The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Your Digital Transformation. She is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead and co-author of the critically acclaimed, bestselling book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, which was named one of the best business books in 2008.

She is one of the foremost experts on social media and technologies and a consultant and independent thought leader on leadership, strategy, social technologies, interactive media and marketing. Formerly Li was vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, worked in online newspaper publishing, and was a consultant with Monitor Group. She was named one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company in 2010 and one of the most influential women in technology 2009.

Highlight points from the interview and a few quotes

Transformation and the need to focus on Relationships

The taglines of the three books, Groundswell, Open Leadership and The Engaged Leader all speak of transformation. That’s intentional, says Charlene, and transformation is “not a comfortable, easy process”.

There is also a case being made through these books for people to not concentrate on the technology but to focus on relationships.

The appropriate response to the question of what technology to use is to focus on the relationships.  Use whatever technology is appropriate to:

  • connect with people
  • develop relationships

“I’d much rather teach someone who understands relationships how to use technology than to do the reverse, teach someone who uses the technologies but doesn’t understand relationships and doesn’t understand leadership,” Charlene says.

And about any technology being proposed for a company’s use:

“Frankly, if it’s not understandable in the context of relationships, I can guarantee you it’s a technology I think that’s not going to be long for the world.”

Transformation is optional

You as the leader can choose not to do anything, “but people won’t come with you”.

The Executive team and the Board

Key points:

  • There is more and more need for Boards to become digitally savvy, and
  • It’s up to the CEO to do the interpretation.
  • The two have to work in conjunction with each other, as they always have

The Board is not there to come up with a solution. That’s the CEO’s job. It’s the Board’s job to say “this needs to be a priority”.

Finding the time

How business leaders can find time to take the necessary action:

  • Find 15 minutes spread throughout the day to just listen to what your most important customers and most important employees are saying
  • Be very strategic in your engagement – you don’t have to listen to everything.
  • As Dale Carnegie taught many years ago, be genuinely interested in who other people are

What keeps business leaders awake at night?

The need for innovation, at the speed it needs to happen.

Exemplary leadership

  • Scott Cook, Chairman of the Executive Committee at Intuit – “has made sure that Intuit has change built into its DNA”
  • Starbucks – constantly innovating, healthcare and education support for employees
  • Mike Smith, CEO of ANZ Bank (Australia HQ) – took entire executive team to Silicon Valley to learn and committed to learning and applying the “new tricks” himself

More about Charlene Li and Altimeter Group

You can find out more about Charlene and Altimeter Group at the company website. Unlike many companies which guard jealously their ideas, Altimeter Group shares generously: check out the reports available for download at no cost to you, at the Our Ideas link, for example, their recently released report The 2015 State of Social Business: Priorities Shift From Scaling to Integrating.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).