Careers: Promoting Open-Source Leadership

  |  October 26, 2009   |  Comments

Give employees the room to think and create for themselves. Agencies and their clients will be better off for it.

Over time our agency has gathered a crew of natural born leaders, people who come up with amazing ideas and then act on them without pushing or prodding. No one needs to be asked to do good work.

A recent example is an event we held called "21 Slides." A crowd packed our downtown Seattle office one evening to hear about the latest trends in social media and digital design. Eight presenters had five minutes each, to entertain the crowd and discourse on everything from the social media "poop cycle" (using urban farming as a metaphor for Twitter and YouTube campaign ecosystems) to online social defamation (turns out, it's probably OK to call someone an "asshat" in an online social space since it isn't verifiable) to what to do now that your mom is on Facebook.

What did I have to do with the event? Very little, besides attending and being blown away by how organized and effective it was. The idea for "21 Slides" started as an informal discussion among staff members from different teams (user experience, design, strategy, analytics, and search), and before we knew it, posters and event cards were printed and invitations were sent. It was easy to approve the modest budget for marketing materials, catering, and beer, once I saw the scope and polish of the agenda. Slam dunk.

How did this occur? By having open-source leadership and team members who are self-starters. That includes encouraging people to question the norm and find new answers. Digital marketers are in the business of pioneering, after all. What is digital if not defining the future?

A whole library of books has been written on leadership. Even though it's a fairly concrete concept, leadership can also be intangible. I look at it from an analytics perspective: the analytics of leadership and success are based on both quantitative measurements (profit, ROI, etc.) and on qualitative measurements. Things like employees taking initiative, organizing events, and showing up to activities and gatherings because they want to, not because they have to.

Leadership can appear at many different points along a staff hierarchy, from receptionist to CEO. It can be as big as directing a corporate strategy or as small as replacing the paper towel roll in the kitchen without being asked. When employees are given the room to think and create for themselves, those qualities bleed into every facet of the work we do for our clients. And when we complement client work with digital-community events like "21 Slides," we show ourselves to be influential, not conventional.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Atchison

In 1998, Shane co-founded ZAAZ to advocate a different approach to Web services — one that respects and delivers on the power of the individual and the promise of Web technologies. As CEO, Shane leads the company's long-term strategic vision of working with leading financial service organizations, consumer brands, startups, non-profits, and community-based organizations, helping each realize the potential of the Internet and its meaningful impact on their business.

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