Global leadership in a Web 2.0 world

Soumitra Dutta, Roland Berger Chaired Professor of Business and Technology, INSEAD, and Matthew Fraser, Senior Research Fellow, INSEAD Global leadership

If there is one lesson we have learned in the past year of economic crisis, it is that leadership in both business and government has suffered a severe erosion of credibility, trust and legitimacy. We need a new leadership model. Could Web 2.0 provide one?

Corporate executives have traditionally been preoccupied with managing the holy trinity of mass production/mass marketing/mass media. Management models were fitted to vertical, top-down organisational structures focused largely on manufacturing products, marketing brands, and communicating to consumers in a one-way conversation. Inside organisations, CEOs were regarded as quasi-infallible leaders whose judgement and decisions were expected to be obeyed and executed. For too long, this leadership model went unquestioned, doubtless because the rewards were too high.

That has changed. We don't need to see the fallout from the current crisis-bankruptcies of banks, insurance companies, car manufacturers and other once-unassailable pillars of global capitalism-to know that this model was disastrously ill-conceived. Corporate leaders, disengaged from their customers and preoccupied with their own interests, are now suffering the consequences of their approach. Indeed, we are all paying for it.

But there is good news. The crisis has forced business leaders to reassess not only the way corporations are structured and managed, but also the values that animate their operations. Fortunately, they have an alternative model at hand. Even before the global economic crisis struck, new forms of leadership were emerging thanks to the power of online networks.

Suddenly, there is intense interest in the Web 2.0 tools that, for many years, corporate leaders resisted as a needless distraction if not a disruptive threat to the status quo. Now that the status quo is part of the problem, many CEOs are embracing the Web 2.0 revolution. They understand that Web 2.0 tools are not just a technological add-on, but must be integrated into a company's entire operations in order to bring about a fundamental shift in values and perception. This change demands a new kind of corporate leadership.

The Web 2.0 leadership model requires management values that recognise the social architecture of companies. Instead of assuming that corporate leaders are all-knowing and infallible, the Web 2.0 model rewards leaders who openly engage with different stakeholders, using tools like blogs, tweets and wikis. Web 2.0 corporate leaders work through networks instead of hierarchies. They are open to ideas from sources beyond the vertical command system of corporate bureaucracy. This requires a large dose of openness and humility-two core values of Web 2.0 leadership-that have not always been hallmarks of corporate leadership in the past. Fortunately, the timing couldn't be better. If there is one virtue corporate leaders realise they must embrace, it is humility.

Could political leaders learn from the crisis in corporate leadership? After all, citizens are no less disenchanted with political elites, who are increasingly resented as arrogantly disconnected from the needs of the voters who elect them into office. Just look at the current public outrage over politicians' expense claims in the UK, one of the world's steadfast democracies.

Like consumers who have become empowered with information thanks to networked Web 2.0 information, citizens are now participating more actively in the political process.

In most liberal democracies, politics has been organised much like commercial markets: dominated by large oligopolies whose leaders are selected within closed, vertical structures called political parties. The business of government, too, has been a top-down process that has alienated, not integrated, citizen participation. And yet voters and citizens can now organise themselves and mobilise support thanks to Web 2.0 platforms like Facebook and YouTube. If not addressed, this disconnect between citizen empowerment and the values of established elites could lead to social tensions, even violent disruptions, not unlike the anti-globalisation demonstrations of recent years. Some leaders are paying attention.

The power of Web 2.0 platforms to radically challenge this old model of political leadership was harnessed, with spectacular success, by Barack Obama in his campaign for the presidency of the United States. While many pundits were focusing on the question of his race, Obama was busy defeating his rivals online, thanks to his powerful technodemographic appeal. His campaign leveraged not only Facebook and YouTube, but also MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, Digg, BlackPlanet, LinkedIn, and other Web 2.0 platforms. The MyBarackObama.com website was attracting more than 8 million monthly visits, including 35,000 volunteer groups that raised $30 million on the site.

President Obama, who enjoys thumbing a BlackBerry, now uses a White House blog and Web-based videos to communicate directly with the American people. In short, if Franklin Delano Roosevelt was America's first radio president and John F. Kennedy was the country's first television president, Barack Obama is its first Internet president.

In liberal democracies, no politician can ignore the powerful networked effects of Web 2.0 platforms. Most western political leaders have closely studied Barack Obama's success with the Internet in order to deploy these same tools to similar effect at home. An even greater challenge will be using Web 2.0 tools to engage citizens in the complex process of government. Web 2.0 social networks diffuse power away from institutions and towards people.

No wonder dictatorships deeply resent, and frequently suppress, free expression on Web 2.0 networks, and even jail dissident bloggers deemed security threats. Fortunately, democracies are different. Politicians, like corporate leaders, now understand that social networking is a powerful leadership tool. They have grasped that Web 2.0 is not a technological threat to be suppressed, but a revolution in communication presenting an opportunity to be seized.

References

Dutta, Soumitra and Matthew Fraser (2008), Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Change Your Life, Work and World, Wiley. Visit www.throwingsheep.com

See www.insead.edu

Visit www.oecd.org/corporate  

©OECD Observer No 273, June 2009




Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q4 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.8% June 2018 annual
Trade: +2.7% exp, +3.0% imp, Q4 2017
Unemployment: 5.2% May 2018
Last update: 02 Aug 2018

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Watch the webcast of the final press conference of the OECD annual ministerial meeting 2018.
  • International co-operation, inclusive growth and digitalisation lead the themes of the 2018 OECD Forum in Paris on 29-30 May, under the banner of What brings us together www.oecd.org/forum. It is held alongside the annual OECD Ministerial Council Meeting on 30-31 May, chaired this year by France with a focus on multilateralism www.oecd.org/mcm.
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • Ambassador Aleksander Surdej, Permanent Representative of Poland to the OECD, was a guest on France 24’s English-language show “The Debate”, where he discussed French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Rousseau
  • Do you trust your government? The OECD’s How's life 2017 report finds that only 38% of people in OECD countries trust their government. How can we improve our old "Social contract?" Read more.
  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2018