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The New Rules of Digital Engagement for Leaders

What does it mean to be a digitally engaged leader?

As it turns out, leading in the digital age requires three of the same skills that have always defined leadership: listening, sharing and engaging, writes one leadership expert and CASE Summit for Leaders in Advancement speaker.

"The same things that have always made a leader still absolutely apply," says Charlene Li, author and principal analyst of Altimeter Group. "They just look very different."

At the CASE Summit for Leaders in Advancement, Li will explore how leaders can spur their own digital transformation. It starts with understanding that an engaged leader, she says, is someone who strategically uses mobile and social tools to accomplish goals.

Li likes to serve up a story about—believe it or not—a humble hamburger to illustrate this. In 2012, the fast food chain Red Robin introduced its new Pig Out burger with bacon crumble aioli. But it wasn't an instant hit, she explains. Employees posted on Red Robin's internal social network, Yammer, about how customers complained that the greasy burger fell apart. The company's executives took note, refined the recipe at the company's corporate test kitchen and introduced a revitalized recipe back into the field in 30 days, says Li.

"Just to give you some context, it usually takes between 12 and 18 months to make it out into the field. So this is revolutionary," she says. Executives used a digital tool to effectively listen to employee feedback, share ideas and shape strategy.

"It says [to employees], ‘You have a voice. You're making a difference,'" she says.

Using digital tools to listen, share and engage is particularly important for advancement leaders, Li points out. In advancement, we invest in relationships—but too often, leaders don't extend those ties into the digital space.

"Let's look at who you're engaging with: alumni. How are they connecting?" she says. "If you don't walk that walk, you have no chance to engage ask them for money and gain their trust."

Devoting energy to digital communication on social media or internal social networks does take time, Li acknowledges, but setting aside a little time every day can make a difference. Missing out on online engagement with a key audience—whether staff members, alumni, students, donors—is equivalent to ignoring someone knocking on your front door, she explains.

"How do you not have time to at least spend 15 minutes a day to listen to your most important customers or employees?" says Li.

This article is from the June 2017 BriefCASE issue of BriefCASE.