Thursday, July 26

Accepting Leadership: ERE Network

If there is one “most important” lesson to be learned from an ERE Network dispute that became a public dispute, it is that those who begin to assume leadership roles, even within social media, must be willing to embrace the responsibilities of leadership no matter how unpleasant they may seem.

Neither David Manaster nor Karen Mattonen, the two most public parties who have participated in this dispute, perceive themselves to be leaders, yet I keep seeing the term continually attached to their names within the recruiting industry. Manaster is CEO of a network that is comprised of 50,000 members and Mattonen operated four discussion groups within that network.

“A leader is an individual who influences, motivates, and enables others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organizations in which they are members.” — R.J. House

This could include any number of organizations, ranging from families and fan clubs to companies and industries. Based on varied responses and comments from other members, I would say both qualify.

They are not alone. Hundreds and thousands and millions of people all over the world, online and off, proliferate the idea that somehow they are not leaders while assuming roles that clearly have leadership responsibilities. And yet, somehow, they fool themselves into believing that if they exempt themselves from the title, they are somehow excused from the accountability of being effective.

As much as I like both Manaster and Mattonen, it seems to me that their unwillingness to apply some principles of effective leadership stems from being in denial that they were leaders, though perhaps in different ways. Had they seen themselves as leaders, I suspect the outcome would be very different.

Having spoken to both parties, it seems futile for me to attempt to explain the actions, events, and perceptions that led to this point. The simplest but somewhat debated summation is this: Mattonen, who led discussions on difficult topics such as ethics and law on the ERE Network, allowed herself to be baited into a personal dispute by another party or parties. The result of this, since she already received a warning for a similar dispute, was her dismissal from the ERE Network.

Any time a leader is banned from a network, whether that position is in title or by default through opinion or action, there are bound to be questions and disagreements over the decision. There were.

As a result, Manaster attempted to move these questions from the ERE Network to a different forum, his personal blog, where those who disagreed with the outcome could express their grievances rather than infuse their questions into discussion groups where perhaps they did not belong. While he achieved this outcome (to his credit), he misidentified several steps in crisis communication.

The most obvious of these was that he may have been better served by making it clear to Mattonen why the decision was made and then directing concerned members to her. As an alternative, he may have created a thread or group within the network and allowed Mattonen to temporarily participate. He may have benefited by keeping the message and focus on the outcome of the dispute rather than attempting to explain the decision for the ban, which shifted the focus from the original dispute onto Mattonen's ban. This created the appearance that Manaster had taken sides.

Truly, Manaster seems to have had the best intentions, but all too often the best intentions do not produce the desired outcomes. In this case, the impact of the communication made the dispute more public; expanded points of potential dissension about Mattonen’s dismissal; increased the number of participants in what became a perceived debate (those vocal and not vocal); created the perception that Manaster had taken sides (as the piece defends his reasoning for banning Mattonen rather than how he chose to handle the dispute); created consequences for Mattonen that extended beyond the ERE Network; and did not provide her any opportunity to respond (she can no longer post anywhere on the ERE Network). Mattenon did eventually respond on a new blog, elevating the crisis.

Fortunately, as with all crisis communication situations, the last step resets the process: collect feedback and adjust.

• There is an opportunity to recognize where the initial communication did not achieve the greater goal of bringing resolution to an unfortunate situation and unnecessarily focused on one individual in a dispute that involved several members. (All involved members, I am told, received warnings. As not all received a prior warning, not all have been dismissed.)

• There is an opportunity to reinforce the finer points of the initial message that seemed buried by comparison: Mattonen has made contributions within the recruiting industry and on the ERE Network specifically, and Manaster has every confidence that she will continue to make such contributions to the industry. Given the response, he may encourage other groups not to base their relationships with her on this network decision, which is isolated to ERE.

• There is an opportunity, it seems to me, that as leaders, both Manaster and Mattonen owe it to any respective followings to discuss, with an arbitrator familiar with the industry as needed and with a very narrow focus, how they may mutually and beneficially conclude the relationship so they may peacefully coexist within the industry. While this may not benefit either party per se, it will benefit those who know them and help prevent further polarization.

While this seems to be an isolated situation, the ERE Network might also review its terms of service, conflict resolution practices, and crisis communication policy. Quantified counts are not an appropriate measure to determine whether the policies that are in place may work or not. On the contrary, if the policies in place worked, there might not be a crisis today.

This leads me to the second “most important” lesson to be learned. There seems to be a trend in social media to push the concept of transparency onto every situation. This is a misconception. Conflict resolution for private matters is best conducted in private, with an arbitrator as needed, because once it is made public, it becomes even more difficult to resolve.

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