Posted by: foxxgregory | May 20, 2010

Book Review: Open Leadership by Charlene Li

I received an advanced reading copy of Open Leadership by Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group and coauthor of the bestselling book, Groundswell, and I am so impressed by this book, which will be available on May 24th.  It is commonly understood that social media is a powerful and creative force that impacts all facets of life in the Information Age, but surprisingly little analysis of precisely how social media is changing the way we do business has been done.  There is a sizable amount of literature that addresses how social media can be used to market and promote entrepreneurial efforts, but little has been written of how social media affects large fortune 500, multinational firms.  I think Charlene Li’s work speaks to both large and small firms and is just as applicable to the public sector as it is to private enterprise.  It provides the framework for organizational leadership to exploit emerging technologies that benefit both customers and employees.

Li introduces the book by explaining the power of social media through two case studies.  In the first, she shows how the Red Cross benefitted by developing a blog, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter page.  In her second example, she shows how a homemade YouTube segment caused United airlines to reconsider and change its checked baggage policies; however, she emphasizes the changes in leadership and organizational culture that are required to allow an organization to be truly “open.”  The reader is reminded that open leadership is more than just opening a Twitter and Facebook page.  So what is open leadership? Li defines it as, “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.”  She further explains that it consists of five new rules: respect that your customers and employees have power; share constantly to build trust; nurture curiosity and humility; hold openness accountable; and forgive failure. 

Li also reminds her readers that open leadership, while about transparency and engagement, requires successful organizations to decide how much they are willing to share and just how “open” they are willing to become.  Again, she provides several case studies and the tools to help the reader determine how open their particular organization should become.  For example, Apple has been notoriously “closed” and not found the sharing of information beneficial to its operations.  Apple’s strategic goals have not required openness; Apple is successful in producing world-class products.  Li refers to this determination of organizational strategic goals, in terms of openness, as determining the size of an organization’s “sandbox.” Basically, does the organization benefit from a larger, more open and transparent sandbox?   

I found two sections of the book more helpful than others: chapter five which outlines how to structure a social media guideline and chapter seven which defines open leadership traits.  In chapter five, Li provides examples of successful social media guidelines and provides step-by-step instructions for creating one.  Chapter seven defines leaders as either pessimistic or optimistic and individualist or collaborative.  A self-assessment is provided to help decide which of Li’s four leadership archetypes one falls in, and advice is provided on how to alter specific leadership archetypes that aren’t conducive to open leadership. 

As I write this review, Pakistan is blocking YouTube and other web sites because of content that the government has cited as unacceptable.  The power and appeal of social media are unquestionable and largely inescapable.  Is your organization poised to survive in a connected, globalized Information era?  If not, it’s time to become empowered through social technology.



  1. Greg: Thanks very much for taking the time to write such a detailed review — really appreciate it. Retweeted and added to the review page at If you could post your review on and, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks!

    • On your site you have posted the following:

      Paul Baker, FoxxGregory: Discussing Business and Books, “Book Review: Open Leadership by Charlene Li”, May 20, 2010

      Please just change “Paul Baker” to “Greg Foxx”.

      BTW Review has been posted on other sites. Thanks in Advance, Greg

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