Blurring the lines between Leadership, Culture & Innovation-01

Blurring the lines between leadership, culture & innovation

This post is part of our Future of Marketing program – a series of private events where top thought-leaders share their ideas and insights on helping you understand how marketing and branding change the conversations about growth, culture and customer experiences.


Convergence: How Social Business blurred the lines between leadership, culture and innovation

Today’s leaders want to harness the power of social buzz, accelerated word of mouth and amplified messages. To reap the benefits of Social Business, leaders must first understand the roots of the Social Business age. While certainly an extension of the Information/Technology age of the 1990s and 2000s, the Social Business age came about due to three mega-trends:

  1. Mobile/Social: Mobile phones were a critical part of the Information Age, but the blending of mobile and social on smart phones put the power of conversations in the hands of billions of consumers.  Reviews are posted and searched, opinions voiced, customer experiences shared – all with a few taps.
  2. Millennials: As 21 – 35 year olds become the dominant customer and employee base, they are influencing every element of a brand.  Hyper-connected, cause-oriented and confident, Millennials are also becoming influencers and leaders.  Armed with smart phones and strong opinions, they are determining and shaping the course of almost every brand on the planet.
  3. Influencers: Thousands of creative, articulate thought-leaders now determine reputations and perceptions for the rest of us.  They come from all walks of life, all ages, all races and all backgrounds.  They are F500 executives, entrepreneurs, chefs, musicians, artists, bloggers and political leaders.  They are every brand’s new target audience.

Collectively, these three trends created the Social Business age.  In doing so, they have removed the separation between leadership, culture and innovation – re-defining how brands are created and organizations grow or atrophy.  To see how all three are connected, let’s look at them individually:

  • Leadership: Social Business requires leaders with high emotional intelligence, who are great at communicating ideas and that can connect with the hearts of the people they lead.  These three leadership traits become the foundation for culture and innovation; sparking conversations that are collaborative, open and strategic. These leaders understand that culture is a critical element of Social Business so they fight to make their company more people-centric and purpose driven.
  • Culture: From great leaders come great cultures.  Great cultures attract humans to a brand; blurring the lines between talent recruiting and customer acquisition and retention.  Brands with great cultures are immersed in being different, authentic and purpose-driven.  This produces legendary customer experiences that are amplified and echoed in social media.  These cultures produce thousands of stories that are then shared and amplified on social media.
  • Innovation: Even stale brands talk about being innovative.  But innovation is not a tactic – it is the outcome of great leadership and great culture.   Great leaders and great cultures are labs for innovation.  Their employees and customers have a symbiotic relationship with the brand – allowing them to serve as the R & D and QA departments.  These brands are obsessed with the questions “What can we do better?” and “What can we do better?”


Brands that embrace this convergence become both mirrors and magnets. They reflect the values and the collective consciousness of the people who touch the brand, while also attracting more talent, more customers and others willing to invest literally and emotionally in the brand.   Brands like Whole Foods, UnderArmour, Cabellas, Zappos and hundreds of smaller, regional companies not only understand Social Business; they have set the standard and use Social Business to dominate headlines and their industries.

On the other side of Social Business are the institutional brands steeped in calcified processes, cultural sameness and dated marketing methods. They are directly threatened by this convergence.  They struggle to shift from command-and-control to hub-and-spoke.  They push back against transparency and authenticity.  They suffer from a distinct lack of self-awareness – which is manifested in their thinking and behavior.  Case in point: taxi cab organizations fighting Uber.  At the core of institutional brands are leaders who focus on keeping things static, while their more nimble and aware competitors create better products and have deeper relationships with the people that touch the brand.

The starting point: you.  Are you a leader with high emotional intelligence? Do you react to trends or harness them?  Do you effectively communicate your ideas? Have you created an influential, respected leadership brand for yourself and your team?  If so, you are already shaping your organization to join the Social Business age.


Justin-hand drawnJustin Foster is a Senior Strategist and Social Business Expert. He is the author of “Oatmeal v Bacon: How to Differentiate in a Generic World” and “Human Bacon: How to Create an Awesome Personal Brand”. He blogs and speaks about social business, culture, and innovation.  You can follow Justin on Twitter @fosterthinking and LinkedIn


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