A few years ago I ran a pilot project at Leeds City Council looking at ‘voice, context and digital identity’. I’d been intending to write about digital confidence once the follow up work was more developed.

I’ve also being following the work of Catherine Howe on networks and democracy. A particular post ‘Digital leadership or just leadership’ was particularly relevant to our work in Leeds. Catherine’s latest update on Social Media why bother? spurred me to write that post about digital confidence.

From my work in Leeds and which Catherine’s post, including comments on digital leadership quoted below highlighted is there were areas I needed to better understand so they could be supported;

“we need leaders who get this digital stuff if we are going to move forward” and

“we need the skills to lead/manage these new areas of expertise not necessarily adopt them all ourselves”

It appears it’s easy to create ‘digital identities’ to ‘have a voice’ but not so easy to understand or create required context or purpose to provide a truly networked environment. And that’s the key to a lot of this work; it’s about understanding how and why we can work better in a civic space – whether digital or not.

Doing things because we can, just isn’t helpful. The project and work since has focused on identity profiles, values, outcomes rather than outputs and managing the expectations and developing required support.

This is a comment on Catherine’s original post

A leader needs to have and be maintaining a social media profile, needs to know the consequences of data sharing, and so on”

This is a quote from her latest post which clearly caught my attention and one I wanted to discuss.

network society

This is fundamental. I’m a big believer in learning by doing. Generally, you can’t make the most informed decisions on something if you don’t understand it yourself. If we are in charge of service delivery and setting strategy, a basic ‘awareness of’ what social networks are and an understanding of ‘how to do’ is required. As Catherine says, it’s really not easy to  learn about the opportunities, benefits or risks if you are not part of it. And this is perhaps the real issue – Digital confidence!

It’s really okay to say “I’m Phil (or whoever) and I need help to understand how this might help my service/organisation so I can either do it myself or support others to do it”.

The willingness and confidence for people to share who we are and what we know, or perhaps a reluctance to acknowledge what we feel we don’t know about is an issue. There should be no shame in identifying professional development needs in digital confidence. Similarly how we express our allegiance, association or shared passions and what we perceive that might or might not say about us is also a challenge. Sharing what we perceive is our personal information is not easy for some. It needs appropriate guidance and training.

Social media profiles come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it be LinkedIn, Twitter etc or social intranets where collaboration and relevant profile information is required to make the thing work, having an up-to-date profile and maintaining it is crucial.

Catherine also mentions ‘communicating confidently’. If we don’t have a presence we have not truly claimed our digital space and cannot therefore expect to be taken as seriously as we could be. I think there is something about trust and respect here too. From a leadership perspective we’ve all heard the one about ‘my door is always open’; perhaps we need to be walking the digital corridors too?

Another post that resonated with me on this was by Elia Morling about the role of curators in storytelling as tribal influencers and bankers

Initially networking is about positioning. Elia suggests that ‘Tribes’ are groups of people gathering around strong passions or emotions.

“An unshared story is basically like rubbish, lying around without any value. Stories gain their meaning and value by sharing, but it’s not as simple as that. The curator imparts their own value, status and trust, upon the story”.

“Curators represent a new type of tribal leadership that operates bottom-up and peer to peer. As a member of a tribe, curators will always be more native and relevant than any outsiders will ever be. Within a tribe they are not only appreciated for leveraging their insider skills, but for sustaining and developing their culture.

Curators can be utilized by organizations as tribal translators, guides and messengers. However their full potential as influencers must be understood in tribal contexts”.

All interesting stuff adding to the debate about networked leadership.

We all initially network like moths around a flame to some extent as we find our feet. The interesting thing here is in the traditional leadership model the curators were sometimes too far down the hierarchical structure to get their voice heard or didn’t have the influence to make a difference. Networked society changes that however people still need the support of digitally aware leaders to really be part of the networked model or tribal leadership that Elia mentions.

This is mostly about creating confidence, nurturing and sharing knowledge. A recent post by Tim Lloyd on ‘Unconscious digital’ covers this perfectly. If you know about something, you are generally more confident to talk about it. In the networked world, sharing knowledge is the new currency. Creating and maintaining these new relationships and networks takes time and should be part of what we do not a bolt on.

Influencers and curators will come and go too. The truly influential leaders in digital civic space will be the ones who create and share knowledge, skills and contacts. Perhaps that’s a cultural change some organisations find difficult – leading by sharing. But maybe going digital can help us with this?

Thanks to Catherine, Elia and Tim for sharing their thoughts which I have referenced. I see them all as leaders.