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Peter Aceto is president and chief executive officer at Tangerine Bank. (Jessica Blaine Smith)
Peter Aceto is president and chief executive officer at Tangerine Bank. (Jessica Blaine Smith)

LEADERSHIP LAB

Is leadership ready for the social age? Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

I would rather engage in a Twitter conversation with a single customer than see our company attempt to attract the attention of millions in a coveted Superbowl commercial.

Why? Because having people discuss your brand directly with you, actually connecting one-on-one, is far more valuable – not to mention far cheaper.

But if you think this position is about social media, you’re wrong. This is less about media and more about understanding what it means to lead in the social age – less to do with campaigning and more to do with engaging. It is, in fact, about a better way to do business.

As recently as 18 months ago, executives had so-called “control.” They defined the rules of the game for consumers: “To do business with us, here’s what we offer, and here’s how you do it.” Propaganda shaped advertising. Consumers lost trust. But times have changed and roles have shifted.

Consumers want to discuss what they like, the companies they support as well as the organizations and leaders they resent. They want a community. They want to be heard.

Consumers now demand that business becomes a compelling experience, which moves the power from the executive boardroom (where decisions used to be made) to the living rooms of everyday consumers.

This is not entirely different from what employees now demand, too. Both consumers and employees are telling us how, where, and when they want to work with us. They are better informed, they expect more and they certainly have the voice to make a strong impact.

The social age is a revolution; one that affects all parts of the business model. The way an organization creates, delivers and captures value. The way a business talks with employees, customers, communities, even regulators and government. And certainly the way leaders lead and behave.

So we face a big challenge. But it certainly is not Facebook, Twitter or the latest social media platform. The biggest challenge the world has seen since the Industrial Age is not social media. It is transparency.

You already know, change is not easy. Many run away from the challenge. But businesses must see the social age as an opportunity to authentically reconnect with their employees and consumers. Forget price, products and services. Trust is the new competitive advantage. Adapt, or you may not survive.

The social age implies – to a certain degree – that the walls to our offices have been torn down. And we have let the world look inside, read our e-mails and sit in on our meetings. It suggests that our employees have a real ability to shape their own careers, demand work that matters, change their working conditions and get direct access to the executive teams, or their CEOs. Imagine that! I can see how scary that would be for most. But, this is the future. And it is certainly the better way. Better for your business, your employees, your customers and guess what? It is far better for your shareholders as well.

We have a choice to passively listen to what employees and customers – and potential customers – think about our businesses. Or we can choose to be a part of the conversation. We can help inform and teach people about what we do, what the business stands for and how we plan to change their lives in a positive way. We have the opportunity to reveal who we truly are.

And better yet, if we engage employees, customers and prospective customers in meaningful dialogue about their lives, challenges, interests and concerns, we can build a community of trust, loyalty and – possibly over time – help them become advocates and champions for the brand.

That is the type of brand evangelism shareholders, until recently, could only dream of. Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt cover this much-needed topic of change in A World Gone Social, a truly must-read book on the social age. It showcases the type of thinking the business world needs: Less jargon, more sincerity, less propaganda, more value, less process, more humanity.

We live in a hyper-connected world. For those of us who engage in it well, we stand a better chance of establishing real value, for our customers, colleagues, the world and ourselves. In a world gone social, we chose the human side of business.

Peter Aceto (@PeterAceto) is president and chief executive officer at Tangerine Bank, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Bank of Nova Scotia.

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