Social Leadership

What is social leadership? A good question and one that isn’t as easy to answer as you might imagine. For some social leadership is tied to morality, ethics and the leader’s sense of duty towards society whilst others consider it to be how deftly a person can employ their social and emotional skills to lead others. Furthermore, academics such as Balkundi & Kilduff assert that leadership should be viewed from a social network perspective, and it is this focus upon social relationships and the ability of the leader to accurately perceive and manage these linkages between people that impacts upon their success.

The chassis of social leadership was actually built some time ago with Mintzberg’s seminal work on leadership in the 70s. Mintzberg said that the ability to build and maintain social networks was key, alongside interpersonal skills that allowed good relationships with others to be formed and the ability to empathise. Perhaps though, it is only in the 21st century as technology has extended our social networks into the virtual world, that we are seeing the chassis developed to full specification, taking the core learning and viewing it through a modern lens.

A key component of social leadership has to be interaction with others. Over the past 30 years, academics such as Riggio have taken research on emotional and social communication and applied this to leadership based on three core social and emotional skills; expressiveness, sensitivity and control. From a social perspective, a leader who is socially expressive will be skilled at engaging others, whether in day to day conversation or delivering presentations, and they will be persuasive. Social sensitivity relates to active listening, and an innate ability to decode the implicit in conversation, with a strong understanding of etiquette. Finally, social control is all about presenting the right image, tact and self-efficacy.

Network theory is an interesting aspect of social leadership because it suggests that human behaviour is embedded in networks of interpersonal relationships. In other words, that people act the way that they do with others because of the intricate web that connects them. Weaved over time these invisible strands dictate familiarity or contempt, desire to assist or desire to hinder. But what are the implications for leaders? Social leaders will understand the importance of networks. They will appreciate that it is not always the formal or acknowledged leader that actually leads; through clever utilisation of network structures, influencing people both within and outside of the organisation, informal leaders can attain power.

Some academics think of leadership as the amount of social capital a person possesses which is the sum of their insight into the intricate networks that exist around them and the social networks that they themselves have formed. The social leader would be able to correctly evaluate the high worth of this social capital and seek to increase their own social capital. So if you are looking to truly define social leadership, a good starting point would be this: a leadership style utilised by a person who may or may not be the formal leader who utilises their strong social capital, and core social skills to motivate, inspire and lead others.


Luxury Academy London

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London,, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors. Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.