The age of iLeadership

This past Fall Quarter I taught the MCDM course, “Leadership in the Digital Age: Establishing Authenticity Through Story.” I couldn’t have asked for a more dynamic news cycle to accompany the class: the death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, the Penn State scandal involving Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions football program, and internally, a heated debate involving UW President Michael Young and the UW Provost appointment. Each of these events provided rich case studies in accountability, transparency, and leadership style.

Beyond the discussions of personal story and individual leadership, the class also tackled issues related to the collective. Namely, the platforms and tools that are inherently social and can have profound effects on the way organizations engage internally and externally, and furthermore, the impact they then have in their communities. For one of the final assignments, an original film featuring 21st century leaders, MCDM Cohort 11-er Shanna Christie took a unique approach and featured her home of West Seattle, and in particular how the leadership of the hyperlocal West Seattle Blog has created a stronger sense of interconnectedness and involvement in the neighborhood. Shanna’s film is entitled West Side Story: A Tale of Technology:

A natural bookend to the themes presented in Shanna’s film is my subsequent piece this December in the 30th anniversary issue of ARCADE magazine, Found In My Own World: Leadership and Community in the Digital Age. In this article I argue what Shanna reveals to be her experience in West Seattle: the interplay between virtual and place-based communities not only strengthens the community overall, but provides new leadership structures that are less formal, but arguably just as effective.

While my Fall Quarter course has ended, my immersion in the topic has not. Starting on January 17, I will be part of a UW Communication Department delegation to South Carolina, including Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist David Horsey, covering the lead up to the South Carolina GOP primary on January 22. This partnership with the Seattle Times involves a blog that will be very dynamic in the next week and beyond, so keep a close eye on it. While the story from the 2008 election was the Obama campaign’s ability to leverage new media, four years later we have a transformed landscape where all campaigns are savvier with the digital tools. Therefore, I’ll be paying particular attention to the life stories the candidates share—and what tools they use to engage communities—and the pictures those stories paint about their leadership style.

Finally, speaking of stories and leadership styles, I’ll be posting more of the student films on the MCDM website over the next few weeks. The films spotlight leaders from across sectors and industries, each with a unique approach to the question of leadership in the digital age.

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