University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

7 Ways Using LinkedIn Enhances Leadership

January 9, 2019 | By Matt Waller

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LinkedIn has established itself as the social media platform of choice for executives, but choosing the platform and using the platform effectively are two very different things.

There’s no questioning LinkedIn’s popularity among organizational leaders. The company says it has around 660 million users worldwide, including more than 8.2 million “C-suite level executives.” JP Morgan Chase, for instance, found that 88% of its Executive Advisory Board members use social media and that 79% of those use LinkedIn (compared to Facebook 54%, YouTube 40%, Twitter 37% and Instagram 17%).

Many successful leaders of large companies use LinkedIn extensively. Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart Inc., for instance, has more than 200,000 followers, and he regularly posts and comments. Senior executives in sales and marketing, as you might expect, also use LinkedIn regularly. But so do executives in other functional areas like supply chain. For example, Kathryn Wengel, the executive vice president and Chief Global Supply Chain Officer for Johnson & Johnson, uses it extensively.

Just because millions of leaders use it, however, doesn’t mean millions of them use it as effectively as leaders like McMillon and Wengel. Some leaders set up an account and seldom actually engage. Others use it sporadically and without much intentionality. I setup a LinkedIn profile years ago, but I only began consistently using it effectively in the last two-and-a-half years. The more I’ve studied it and used it, the more I realize the value it provides. Here are seven reasons I think LinkedIn is uniquely enhancing my leadership – and how you can use it to be a better leader, as well.

  1. Sensemaking

  2. Leaders with a strength in sensemaking possess an ability to explain how external and internal phenomena relate to the organization and how the organization should respond. Unlike other social media platforms, LinkedIn is primarily focused on business, so much of what you see there is relevant to a business leader.

    LinkedIn members often curate a wide variety of articles published elsewhere, along with their thoughts about the articles. Then others respond to their posts. You can then read the article and many different perspectives on the ideas. This helps you with boundary spanning, which in turn helps you with sensemaking.

    Similarly, if you read an article and you form an opinion about the implications of the article, then you can curate the article on LinkedIn and include your views about it in a post. Others will reply to the post with agreement or other perspectives. If no one responds, then you can ask for feedback from specific people whose opinions you value. If your thoughts and ideas about a topic are more thoroughly developed, then you can write a LinkedIn article. Using all this refines the sensemaking you can bring to your organization.

  3. Relating

  4. Since LinkedIn posts and articles are organized around hashtags, you can search for posts and articles to start interacting with others who have similar interests. All of the interactions are around posts or original content or curated content on specific topics, which helps you to focus on what’s truly relevant and, therefore, discover people who are interested in the same topics.

    Some people simply curate content of others and don’t comment on it. While some of these people are really good at curating content that is relevant and interesting, I have a preference for those who provide their own insights. Those people are often more inclined to engage on content that I curate or create, which is some of the most valuable interactions. Sometimes these are people I work with, but interactions on LinkedIn provide for a level field where titles don’t seem to be as important. Sometimes these interactions are with colleagues I’ve known for decades. Sometimes they are people I will never meet, and they live on other continents, which brings a new dimension to relating.

    One very simple and very valuable aspect of this is that when your connections update their contact information, you have the update.

  5. Visioning

  6. Effective visioning requires a solid foundation of facts (in context), logic, empirical analyses, statements from authorities in the domain, and relevant anecdotes, and each of these can be found over time with LinkedIn. A leader is always in the process of visioning. If you are using LinkedIn effectively on a routine basis, then you will come across content that can help you lay the foundation for the output of the visioning. And it allows you to test some of your ideas by replying to the posts and seeing the responses. You might not always want to be as public with your thoughts, but you may want feedback from someone specific. In that case, you can use the InMail function on LinkedIn or use the contact information from their LinkedIn profile page.

  7. Inventing

  8. Leaders also are continually inventing. We frequently have to come up with ways to communicate good news, bad news, opportunities, threats, and just simple facts. We have to formulate approaches to overcoming roadblocks to strategies and tactics. And we must design new organizational structures to best serve the direction of the organization.

    Inventing is even more important today with the speed and magnitude of changes as a result of digital innovation and disruption. By using LinkedIn regularly over time, you get better at knowing how to find relevant, cutting-edge ideas and how to get good feedback on your ideas. At that point, you are efficient and effective at finding examples of inventive approaches in other situations and at other organizations. If you have questions about some of these inventions, you know how to get answers. Through lots of engagement, you have some ideas about consultants you might want to hire and people you might want to employ.

  9. Setting Direction

  10. Sensemaking, relating, visioning and inventing all contribute to setting direction. For the elements of the direction you as a leader want to be public, LinkedIn, especially through LinkedIn Articles, helps you communicate that direction. As a leader, many people in your organization will follow you on LinkedIn and will read your posts, articles, replies to other posts and re-posts. In addition, suppliers and customers can follow, as well. Some talented people might be drawn to join your organization because posts and articles make them aware of the direction it’s going. Similarly, some people may elect to not apply for a job with you because of the direction the organization is going, and that can be beneficial, as well.

  11. Gaining Alignment

  12. As people in your organization read your posts, articles, replies to other posts and re-posts, it helps bring alignment as well. When an employee, supplier or customer comment on your content on LinkedIn, it is good to provide lots of positive feedback to encourage more engagement. Over time, people see that you are open to ideas and they will become a part of the development of the direction, which enhances procedural justice. LinkedIn, of course, is not the only mode a leader should use for gaining alignment—that requires face-to-face meetings, town hall meetings, discussions, and many others. Leaders need to leverage all digital means possible, however, to gain alignment on important strategic endeavors.

  13. Providing Motivation

  14. Some employees will want to support the strategic direction of the organization but may not know how to do it. LinkedIn has so much content about various strategic directions, how they have been executed, and their results, that it is not too difficult to find good examples. As you engage on LinkedIn with various strategic objectives in mind, you can collect examples and engage with the ones that are most relevant to the strategic direction of your organization.

    Intrinsically motivated employees might use some of these for ideas on how to contribute to the strategic direction. Other employees may be extrinsically motivated to support the strategic direction based on some inspiration. So, as you are engaging on LinkedIn, you can find potential sources of inspiration, but you can also test them. If people are responding positively to a post that contains a potential source of inspiration—possibly your post or someone else’s post—then that can be an indication that you can use this idea, story or example to provide inspiration to some of your employees.

    If you aren’t using LinkedIn as a leadership tool, then I encourage you to put some time and effort into it for the next six months and evaluate the results. LinkedIn has a downloadable “playbook” that has some good advice on how to set up your profile and best use the platform. By spending a few minutes each day intentionally and strategically engaging on LinkedIn, I believe you can improve the overall effectiveness of your leadership.

    Note: The seven labels above come from a combination of two articles from Harvard Business Review: one by John Kotter (from 2001) and the other by Deborah Ancona, Thomas W. Malone, Wanda J. Orlikowski, and Peter M. Senge (from 2007). The first talks about “what” leaders do—set direction, gain alignment and provide motivation. The second talks about “how” leaders lead—sensemaking, relating, visioning and inventing. These two articles resonated with me, so I combined the two models, which is explained in this LinkedIn article.

    Figure 1 summarized and explains my leadership framework and Figure 2 gives some examples of LinkedIn posts that support each of the cells of my leadership framework.

Figure 1: My Leadership Framework

(This figure was originally a part of a LinkedIn article I published.)

Setting Direction Gaining Alignment Providing Motivation
HOW LEADERS LEAD Sensemaking Leaders who can explain how phenomena in their industries are impacting their organizations provide credibility to the direction that they have set. Clearly articulating changes in the industry and their impact helps employees see the value in joining forces. This is especially true when there is a common threat. Understanding where an industry is going and how that affects an organization serves as a catalyst for employees to move in the right direction.
Relating The art of conversation ensures clarity when setting direction. The conversation also creates an environment of procedural justice for the path that is set. Relating to others facilitates the networking within an organization that is necessary for gaining alignment. People are more motivated to help leaders they trust, and trust is built on strong relationships of mutual understanding and respect.
Visioning Creating a mental image of the direction makes it more credible and easier to remember. A well-illustrated mental model helps everyone “see” the organization’s future and, therefore, makes it more likely that they will go in the same direction. Appealing mental images inspire people to action.
Inventing Obstacles always exist in a worthwhile direction. When the leaders and their teams co-invent solutions, it clarifies and adds specificity to the direction, while creating additional procedural justice in the process. Gaining alignment is a significant obstacle to moving in a particular direction. Leaders with a strong inventing capability have an advantage because they can invent mechanisms to align the organization. It takes creativity and innovation to come up with effective incentives to motivate the organization.

Figure 2: Examples

Setting Direction Gaining Alignment Providing Motivation
HOW LEADERS LEAD Sensemaking Over the last few years we have been talking about our values frequently and in many different ways because we believe this makes an important impact on organizations. Source. Business education makes a difference even for entrepreneurs. Source.
Research is relevant and important. Source.
Students need to see that the business world provides opportunities that they can achieve themselves. Source and Source.
Relating The Walton College has a significant initiative to increase the number of students in internships and to have them earlier in their program. Source. Recognizing the accomplishments of others that are related to our initiatives. Source and Source. Our University has priority on helping Arkansans obtain a degree, but it takes benefactors to make that happen. Source.
Visioning Part of the vision of the Walton College is to be thought leaders in our teaching, research and service. Source. Another part of the vision of the Walton College is to be a catalyst for transforming lives. Source. Entrepreneurship is one of the three strategic endeavors of the Walton College. Source.
Inventing Many influential external constituents believed the Walton College needed more engagement with central Arkansas. The solution took the work of many faculty, staff and administrators. Source. Teaching is core to what we do and we need new ways of making content relevant and up-to-date. Source and Source. Benefactors need to see that their giving makes a positive impact. Source and Source.

Post Author:

Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair, and professor of supply chain management. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.

Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow, and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain” published by Pearson Education.

He received a B.S.B.A. summa cum laude from the University of Missouri, and a M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics.