Here is the dilemma for business leaders: How can we work with people out in the world when the world is so unsafe? Outside is a teeming, chaotic mass of people armed with social media tools shouting at companies about what they want and how they want it. Inside it is nice and safe, with controlled processes and plans that should work--if everyone just left us alone. Outside they’re off message and uncontrollable, inside we’re on message and always in control.

A set of three mythical assumptions about the world, and the people populating it, are keeping too many organizations--and their leaders--locked inside fortress walls. These myths are that: the world is overrun by whackadoodles; social media is making us less civil; and staff cannot be trusted online. Fearless leaders are neither defined nor constricted by these myths. Instead, they are focusing on what I call Matterness: the intersection of people and organizations wherein their unique talents and resources of each create a better whole.

Instead of infusing their efforts with Matterness, organizations continue to hide behind their fortress walls--paralyzed by their fear of the world. This is how and why over 70 percent of complaints about organizations made on Twitter are ignored by organizations.

Here are the myths (and the reasons why they are just myths):

1) The online world is overflowing with whackadoodles. Of course, whackadoodles, wingnuts and crazy people exist, but not to the extent that organizations imagine. Too often, the possibility of being attacked is confused with the probability of it happening. The far more likely scenario is that an organization will be ignored online rather than attacked. When companies like Pizza Hut move past their last century ethos of command and control and broadcast habits, they find that their online world is filled with well-meaning people excited to help shape and support their efforts.

2) Social media is making us less civil. There is no evidence, no data, no research that proves that we are different people, less civil people, when socializing online versus on land. We are who we are wherever we are. Social media brings out the best in most of us and, sadly, also makes visible the worst in some of us. But that is no reason to hide. We are living online and on land not in one space or the other, but in both spaces together, simultaneously. Whatever we do anywhere is our real world, and what we feel and know carries over to any other place or space we occupy. And people everywhere are overwhelmingly kind and generous, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

3) Staff cannot be trusted online. On average, the total cost of advertising and interviewing a management-level person comes to over $20,000. Once hired, the first thing most companies do is tell these smart, responsible, self-starting, creative people not to think for themselves or speak on behalf of the company. Research shows that employees working within cultures that value independence and creative problem solving stay longer. Organizations shouldn’t muzzle their best ambassadors, but should prepare them to engage with the world. AARP trains and supports dozens of staff people to openly engage with their constituents online, and wonderful conversations between staff and constituents are happening every day.

Billions of people are acting kindly and generously online and on land every day without barriers, fanfare or recognition. Companies need to tap into this goodwill and grow the Matterness that power people inside and outside to solve problems and become great ambassadors. Organizations do not need better people on the outside--they need better leaders on the inside.

Published on: Dec 17, 2014