What’s So Scary About Open Leadership? Ask Charlene Li

Interview overview

Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, talks about what motivated her to write Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead and shares advice for social media /web strategists in the job market.

Below is an extract of my one-hour interview with Li. To access the complete interview – and the many valuable insights Li offered – download the transcript.

Leaders can’t admit weakness without having strength and credibility

Image of Charlene Li, author Open Leadership

Charlene Li's book Open Leadership is based in part by interviews with leaders and management of top U.S. companies.

Alison Cummings: The fear of admitting failure is discussed quite a lot in the book. Did you get any direct responses from the leaders about why it’s so hard for them to show weakness and to acknowledge failure?

Charlene Li: Yes, I did.  It’s a common perception that if I note that I am weak, or admit that I am wrong in a certain area, then I will be vulnerable to all the people who are out there trying to attack me. Both internally and externally.

The problem is, you can’t admit weakness without having strength, and that credibility. And if you admit weakness over and over and over again, and failures over and over again, without that credibility in the first place, then you cannot succeed. So it’s the context, again, of is that relationship strong enough to be able to carry you through. And, in many cases, that relationship just doesn’t exist. So, no, they don’t feel comfortable doing this because they don’t have that relationship in the first place. Because they are approaching leadership from very much a control point of view.

The fundamental reason people are still uncomfortable taking on social technologies has nothing to do with the technologies, and everything to do with the new type of relationship they have to form.  – Charlene Li

Mad men, bad management

Alison: You may be one of the millions of people who watch Mad Men – or not – but Don Draper has said more than once, “If you don’t like the conversation, then change it.”  And I think that point of view is still pretty common, but we are getting to the point where that attitude is definitely not going to work any more.

Charlene: No, no.  You can’t control it. And this is the thing that I talk to people about over and over:  You think you are in control and that by giving up control by engaging in these areas.

And I’m like, “Man, wrong mindset!  You’re not in control. And they tell me, “What? But I’m the leader!  I run this place.  I own my customers!”

If I really want to blow up some doors, what I’ll do a little research beforehand.  I’ll know who’s going to be in the room, I know their departments, and I will go into Glassdoor and find people talking very specifically about their company. And about them.

It’s rethinking a lot of the ways that we think about business. Which again, if you look at Mad Men, it’s like uck, remember those days? Well, we’re really not that far from those days. Really not that far. – Charlene Li

On the job market? Interview questions Charlene Li would ask

Want to know what questions Charlene Li would ask in a job interview to determine the degree of a company’s Open Leadership? Charlene’s view of the next hot jobs in the social media market? If you are a social media specialist or a generalist – and what that says about your interests and abilities? Access to these insights would normally cost a lot of money. All you have to do is download my interview with Charlene Li.

And finally, find out her secret

The Altimeter Group founder shares her secret. Download the complete Charlene Li interview to learn the single resource Charlene Li uses to  keep current on social media trends and  technologies.

About Alison Cummings

Business Writing, Copywriting, Content Marketing.
Communications + Marketing + Technical Expertise.


  1. Loved this interview. Thanks so much for bringing this book to my attention. What drives my passion for social media the most is its effect on society and the workplace. As social media evangelists, we see this all the time with small companies whose cynicism is fueled by ignorance. While in the big corner offices of Fortune 500 companies, it’s fueled by defensiveness and tradition.

    btw – love your site.

    • You are very welcome! I hope to do more interviews. Appreciate your comment re: impassioned evangelists. Look forward to further discussion over a coffee. Site is just getting started – more to come.


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