Social Influence

How Education Leaders Use Social Media to Build Trust, Encourage Creativity, and Inspire a Collective Vision

Whether you want to change the world, your country, your community, your workplace or yourself everything begins and ends with a story. This week on the podcast I interviewed education leaders about how they see the relationship between leadership and social influence. A theme across all responses was that it helped enhance and develop relationships.

How Education Leaders Use Social Media to Build Trust, Encourage Creativity, and Inspire a Collective Vision

Trending Skills for Leaders

In 2018, “Future of Jobs Report,” the World Economic Forum predicted their list of trending skills for 2022, many which are arguably necessary now. They introduced for the first time, “leadership and social influence” as a trending skill. One that appeared again in their list for 2020.

How Education Leaders Use Social Media to Build Trust, Encourage Creativity, and Inspire a Collective Vision
Credit: World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2018

In 2016 wrote about, “Using Snapchat to Develop Empathy in a Technology-Driven World.” I shared why I believed stories would play a powerful role. I was shocked re-reading it. In fact, I could have simply changed the date to 2022 and changed Snapchat to Instagram or Facebook and the rest would have remained the same, except perhaps the state of the world is much worse than I had described it back in 2016.

Using these platforms to share your story, the story of your district, the story of what is happening in classrooms is a powerful way to recognize accomplishments and encourage creativity. I’m sharing many of the same reasons from 2016. As I believe in them even more deeply, and adding what I’ve learned over the past 5 years and why I believe you should pay attention to the medium and how sharing stories can strengthen your social influence. As many look to pursue entrepreneurial ventures, or consider developing their own personal brand, this is applicable in all scenarios.

#1: Leadership and Social Influence

“What if I would’ve shown up? What if I would’ve been brave?”

Brene Brown

Let’s begin by defining leadership. Leadership is the process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. I prefer this definition because it defines leadership as a process not as a set of individual traits. Today’s world requires our leaders and us to evolve from being transactional to transformational. In a transactional environment politicians win votes by promising no new taxes. Managers offer promotions to employees who surpass their goals. In classrooms teachers grade work for assignments completed (Northouse, 2019).

The prevalence of these environments reveals that we have a transformational leadership vacuum. And it needs to be filled by YOU! Transformational leaders are those who encourage creativity, recognize accomplishments, build trust and inspire a collective vision (Notgrass, 2014). They are role models for the beliefs and values they want to see others adopt. And they believe that their audience is able to rise to the occasion. 

Example: Mikhail Alfon, CEO of Blue Light Agency has created a movement around the hashtag #EarnYourSunrise. In sharing his own fitness journey, he has inspired his followers to embark upon their own fitness journey. Every day they share their workout routines with him in their stories.

#2: Establish Trust and Credibility

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it and what you do simply proves what you believe.” 

Simon Sinek

We tend to hear the first part of that quote by Sinek often. What we neglect is the second half. Stories is your opportunity to show people what you do to prove what you believe. Stories let people see what you do allowing them a deeper understanding into your why. And stories are the most powerful tool you have to establish trust and credibility with your audience. We can’t all create and edit productions for YouTube. However, we can all take 15-30s to press the damn button and share authentic moments from our journey in our day tho day. I notice a significant difference when I meet someone for the first time based on whether or not we are connected online.

Creating stories allows you to extend your feed, taking an article you’ve written, as place you’re visiting, a talk you’re giving or anything else and provide context. It allows you to take your audience behind the scenes. And it is in those small moments you develop a deeper bond with them. 

Example: Is a review that someone is sharing online real or just them promoting one more product? That is a challenge faced by many influencers and bloggers. Lindsay Silberman, a New York City-based magazine editor and influencer who specializes in luxury travel, beauty, and fashion and master at connecting with her community through stories is quoted by her audience time and time again for being “the blogger they trust.” Deepening that relationship with your community can be the difference that makes a difference in competitive spaces.

#3: Stories Extend Your Existing Platforms

Your story empowers others when you talk about how and why you came across success. When you share your risks and failures you allow everyone to learn and feel with you.

Brian Fanzo

Sharing of Ideas.

Today’s leadership calls for helping people evolve traditional systems to meet the needs of our time. This requires you to consistently be sharing information and ideas with your followers.  A post of the end-product does not teach, inspire or empower another to do the same. This type of learning can neither be mandated nor learned in a 45m meeting. Social platforms for that reason become instrumental in being able to influence your audience. And extend the relationship as you move between offline to online.

Process > Product.

If the prevalence of reality TV has taught us anything it’s that we LOVE an inside look into the lives of others. While you may be incredibly proud of your end product, it doesn’t mean much to your audience. What matters to them more is how you got there and how they can get there too. They follow you and look to you for leadership because they trust you and want to learn from you. When you share the ups and downs of the journey you’re daring to lead. 

Example: In today’s online world what happens behind the scenes is not always apparent. Whether it’s an individual suffering from anxiety, imposter syndrome, or the challenges of running an online business, Emily Schuman, founder of Cupcakes and Cashmere shares it all. Her authentic stories showcase her day to day reality of being a female entrepreneur.

#4: Act Local. See Global. 

“Because we are a globally connected village, we need to remember that our choices are not isolated. They have a powerful ripple effect, and that ripple is global.”

Linda Fisher Thornton

When people ask me why I chose my particular doctorate program I say it was the only program that contained this one word, “global”. I’m a firm believer that without an understanding of global events and how people across the world are designing solutions for challenges and adapting their political, social and economic systems you cannot and will not be a successful leader at home.

In the Global Executive EdD program at the University of Southern California, I had the opportunity to not only learn with an international cohort, together we visited Finland, Qatar, Hong Kong and we would have gone to Brazil but…Covid. Our focus was on education and it was fascinating to see how every country was struggling with the same challenges and asking the question every educator is asking, “how do we best prepare our learners for their world?” What varied however were their solutions and the difference that made a difference time and time again was the vision and influence of transformational leaders. It’s important to recognize that solutions, especially in a field like education, are dependent on the other systems a country has.

So while we won’t find ourselves being able to “copy” we will definitely find ourselves humbled.

Countries around the world are creatively changing the “grammar of school” and designing new models that will shape the competitive landscape of the future. If you’re leading in your field today, you want to know what these models and are and be connected with these leaders. Staying in your bubble doesn’t just limit your ability, it hinders the competitive landscape of your nation. The same can be said for just about every other industry out there.

Example: When I think of people who are sharing stories that break down the barriers in our mind of what we think life is like in other countries I think of travel bloggers Drew Binksy and Lexi Alford. Drew has visited 192 countries and at 21 Lexi is the world’s youngest person to have traveled to every country. They go beyond the resorts and traditional sights to take you behind the scenes into people’s homes, sharing stories about people and culture that will leave you saying, “they are just like us,” because at the end of the day we all share one thing in common — we are all human beings.

#5: Find and Be Found

The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you do with what you know.

Tony Wagner

One of the most common references made about Gen Z and millennials is that they want to be part of workplaces that speak to their values and allow them to do work that has meaning and purpose. Make no mistake it’s not just Gen Z and millennials that want this, all humans want this. The difference however is that this was a luxury for generations before. Today with the internet it’s available to anyone who is willing to go after it. The internet has broken down barriers and removed the limitation of proximity when building a network. I now tell the story of my professional life in alignment with my social media timeline. Why? Because there is a marked shift in the type of work I was doing before and after I established an online presence. 

Prior to having an online presence I was the one looking for jobs, endlessly searching job boards and applying to anything and everything.

That was what life looked like for many of us in a post 2008 recession world. However I started to notice that there were a lot of people doing really cool things. Establishing an online presence allowed me to connect with people next door and across oceans. It allowed me to find those who shared my values and were doing work that I was interested in being a part of and it allowed organizations to find me. Since 2014 I’ve changed roles four times and never once filled out a job application in the traditional sense. 

How Education Leaders Use Social Media to Build Trust, Encourage Creativity, and Inspire a Collective Vision

Example: Jordan Paris, created the podcast “Growth Mindset University” during his time as an undergraduate. His podcast ranks in the top ten in a number of competitive categories not just in the United States but worldwide. His guests include James Altucher, Grant Cardone, Mark Manson, Naveen Jain and Dan Lok, and later this year he is giving his first Ted Talk. By building a personal brand and sharing stories he has a network with individuals most college students just read about.

Bonus for You: Self Reflection and Self-Awareness

The following two reasons are personal and transformational benefits that creating stories has brought to my life and my skill set. I have become significantly more aware and reflective of my own thoughts and ideas by making my thinking visible through stories. Stories also subconsciously make me start my day asking, “What story will I tell today? What will I create today?”

I had felt how powerful reflective storytelling was and when I read, “Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age,” by Bruce Feiler I understood why. In the book he shares:

“Life is the story you tell yourself. But how you tell that story – are you a hero, victim, lover, warrior, caretaker, believer – matters even more.”

Understanding the role story plays isn’t just about influencing your audience, it’s about strengthening your emotional intelligence and helping others do the same.

Story, Bruce shares, is how we navigate the transitions in our lives, the many challenges that come our way. This is essential he says because the liner life that so many of us have come to know is dead. We no longer go to school, get a job, get married and then settle down for the next 40 years. So the accelerated pace of change in today’s world as we live through the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a non-linear one. 

As we reflect on leading non-linear lives in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, I think back to a line from Bree Geoff, “People don’t resist change, they resist loss.” As a leader you need to be well versed in telling your story of how you navigate change so that you can help your audience do so as well. 

So I challenge you to “Dare to Lead” as Brene Brown would say and contribute to your community on LinkedIn stories. As Brown says, “At the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of my life, I want to say I contributed more than I criticized.”

Do you have a story to share about how sharing your content online opened new opportunities? Send it to me via email to get featured in my upcoming post in this series –

I’m Sabba.

I believe that the future should be designed. Not left to chance.

Over the past decade, using design thinking practices I've helped schools and businesses create a culture of innovation where everyone is empowered to move from idea to impact, to address complex challenges and discover opportunities. 

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