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Why All Leaders Are Social Workers

Part 1 of a 2 part series on the fusion of social and work

Are you a social worker? I don’t mean someone who went to university and took a Master’s of Social Work with courses in welfare policy, community practice, or family dynamics. I mean someone who acknowledges, practices, and works socially. A social worker as I define it is someone who knows they don’t work alone, that relationships matter, and that social work will always trump isolated star performance in the long run. If you are a leader you are also a social worker.

Our brains our wired to connect. In 2006, Daniel Goleman, the originator of much of the work on emotional intelligence, wrote a follow up book: Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. He set out to write a sequel but all the brain evidence pointed towards an evolution from a narrow emotional intelligence to a view of the brain as social and wired to connect:

Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us affect the brain – and so the body – of everyone we interact with, just as they do us.

Don’t confuse social media with social work. Social media can be a tool for our social work but you don’t have to tweet, update on Facebook, contribute to Google+, of build a LinkedIn page to be social. In many ways social works best in person and social media may be used as a tool to avoid authentic social work. I was recently at a conference where about half the audience was on their tablets, smart phones, and notebooks. They were actively tweeting and updating but I saw them more as broadcasters than social workers. They were more in tune with the screens than the speaker or the person sitting beside them. Sometimes it seems we screen out social with a stronger connection to our screens than to the people in the room. It would be good as leaders and managers to remember never to be a “thumb-body” when they are with somebody. Social in the workplace is less about tools and more about people and our connection to others. The medium here is not the only message; the greater message is that we are working with and through connection.

Breaking convention. The conventional definition of leadership or management is getting work done through people. Today management and leadership is getting work done with people and developing people through work. Henry Mintzberg, Canada’s leading expert on management and leadership, recently wrote a second edition of his book Managing. The book contains many great insights and stories but one of Mintzberg’s key points was the fusion of management and leadership and the idea of not trying to distinguish them. Good managers are leaders, good leaders are managers and Mintzberg used the term “communityship” to acknowledge the social element of work. Mintzberg replaced the folklore that “managing is mostly about hierarchical relationships between a “superior” and “subordinates” with: managing is as much about lateral relationships among colleagues and associates as it is about hierarchical relationships (p28/29). Good leaders level and know that when we work socially we are all on the same level even thought we have different strengths, functions, tasks, and responsibilities.

On your own but never alone. You may be on your own in some of your work but you are never alone. As a leader or manager are you prepared, motivated, and skilled to give the best and get the best out of work by being one of the new social workers as we move towards a more connected 2020 vision of work?

Watch for part 2 of Leaders are Social Workers: The 5’Cs of Social Work: Connection, Conversation, Community, Collaboration, and Co-Creation.

Previous version of this post was available at the Shared Visions Website.

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