Some One Still Has To Decide: You Can’t Lead Using Social Media Alone

Some One Still Has To Decide: You Can’t Lead Using Social Media Alone


Leonard Zwelling

There’s a new kind of leadership. It makes statements and pronouncements on Twitter. It awaits feedback. It then changes its original position and the cycle starts again. Eventually, some position is sort of assumed by the leader who started the Tweet storm and that the media interprets as “policy.” The leader can say he or she did not decide alone, when, in fact, everyone knew what he or she wanted. No one protested and the leader gets what he or she wants. For now. You get my drift. That’s neither real leadership nor real followership. It’s fluff.

This isn’t leadership and you can’t be a leader on the other end of a cell phone with a Twitter account.

Thomas L. Friedman makes this point in his essay from Hong Kong in The New York Times on September 18. He says that the “social media revolutions” like the ones during the Arab Spring have largely failed and the one in Hong Kong may fail as well unless someone decides to lead it in a way that is both uniting and effective in opposition to the encroachment on Hong Kong by the Communist Chinese government in Beijing.

Lately, I have seen the same kind of leadership in corporate America and in academia. People placed in positions of power Tweet out their orders or thoughts and wait to see what comes back. Surely this is the case in the White House where the Tweeter-in-Chief is the 400-pound guy on his bed sending out missives about world affairs that confuse and astonish all at once. What is the United States’ position on what happened in Saudi Arabia? Was Saudi Arabia attacked by Iran? If so, does that mean the two countries are at war? And if it does, will America actively back its Saudi allies with military force? Who knows? But we should by now.

What is evident is that the Iranis were willing to risk a full-blown war to bomb the Saudi oil fields. It is reasonable for us to assume that the Iranis did not fear an American response given the Trump Administration’s response to the downed American drone by Iran and the mischief Iran is having on shipping in the Persian Gulf. That is no response at all cloaked as “restraint.”

The attack on the Saudi oil fields seems to be of the magnitude that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was on our military. It didn’t take a week for FDR to ask Congress to declare war. If the Saudis think they were attacked, it is for them to determine by whom and in what way to respond.

The same thing seems to be happening in academic medicine. Deans and presidents Tweet out thoughts about social policy, statues on campus and the use of Christian buildings as sites to call for Muslim prayers. What’s wrong with this picture? For goodness sake, if you are the leader, lead and do so with some conviction.

I fear the use of social media has replaced true leadership. Rather than decide, leaders seek consensus regarding difficult issues facing them. That’s unfortunate because these leaders were selected to lead.

At MD Anderson, in particular, both the number two in command, Steve Hahn, and the Chief Scientific Officer, are rumored to be on the runway to leave. Then what? Will there be searches for their replacements? What kind of people are being sought? It is hard to know because it is hard to know what the direction of the institution is. The commercials don’t help. They’re still just talking heads and a red line. How exactly will MD Anderson remain the leader in cancer care and regain its rightful position leading clinical and basic research?

Oh, I know. I’ll find out on Twitter.

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