Social Leadership: when the CEO and the top manager enable new organizational storytelling

CEO and top manager are called to tell the vision and the values of the company they are representing.

4 February 2020 3 min.

Data and facts – the ones released by We Are Social and HootSuite in their periodic reports on the 2019 Digital global statistics – suggest an iper-connected scenario. On a global population of 7.5 billion, almost half of the people regularly use social networks, while mobile users are more than 5 billion.  

What does digital communication mean to companies, CEOs and top managers? 

This scenario shows a challenge for marketing and corporate communication. A lot of connected entities create a considerable amount of incentives, tracks, contents: “arising” with distinguishing and unique messages to the audience, while collecting feedback in real-time to inform decisions, is now essential for firms, brands and companies. The  pervasiveness of communication  and channels enabling any conversation  represents both an opportunity and a potential threat  for brands and firms (think of the fake news). That is why there is a vital necessity for the organizations to “show the face”. In this regard, CEO and top managers, that design the vision and inspire colleagues to the shared goals, play a fundamental role also as touchpoints and spokespeople for the brand and the company towards the stakeholders.  

Social networks, websites, video and other multimedia content represent the main channels that eMarketer has been mapping as research areas and prime communication tools for CEO since 2013 ( 

However, if the CEO and the top manager’s role becomes essential in a context getting more and more digital, the data about their reputation as a guide and inspiration are not encouraging yet. The annual study of the public relations company Edelman Trust Barometer ( measures the people trust level and shows that globally just a low percentage of the respondents believes the CEO’s words. This is a relevant fact on an uphill climb.  

  • How to design and manage a Social Leadership project?  
  • What are the main dimensions to observe?
  • Which methods make efficiency grow?  

Charlene Li’s model to create an engaging social leadership strategy  

One of the main organizational objectives is  developing high employee engagement  in  order to ensure a positive mood and a good employee experience. Such a condition supports the achievement of corporate goals and impacts on the satisfaction of both employees and teams. Moreover,  the connection between the growth of collaborative trends within the company and the existence of management with more helpful behaviours (and tools) has recently become evident.  


This is the central theme of the study The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for your Digital Transformation  released in 2015 by  Charlene Li, founder and CEO of Altimeter | A Prophet Company, who theorized the importance of the CEO and top managers collaborative engagement and their impact on the mood and the corporate reputation. Charlene Li  proposes a model to identify the phases that should be followed by CEO and top managers, in order to appear to the organization and the market as helpful leaders able to enliven, motivate and engage the internal and external stakeholders.  

The model implies 3 phases: 

  • Focused listening: this first step consists in the research and the selection of users and online communities, where to start an active listening and stimulate an ongoing conversation; 
  • Collaborative sharing: once the potential interlocutors have been identified, the social leader can begin to post interesting contents on his channel, to foster the dialogue with the targeted network. From listening to the conversation. 
  • Transformational engagement: once the successful conversation about interesting and topics has been activated, the social leader must transform the thoughts and the ideas shared in the network in concrete actions.  


Through these steps, top managers taking this path will get the possibility to monitor the most relevant conversation topics for the identified stakeholders and for the market where the organization moves, and then bring them to the attention of the company. Thanks to this approach, the social leader will be able to stimulate and inspire the corporate population, engaging it in a proactive dialogue, driving its communication activities and creating an effective relationship between personal and corporate brand.  


See it in Action

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