12/18/2012 10:23 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2013

Washington Can Benefit From Social Business Leadership Principles

In a highly competitive market, where difficult and timely decisions must be deliberately made without permanently damaging existing relationships, the ability to collaborate and build consensus is an important leadership trait. Business agility and customer delight are not mutually exclusive. A company's ability to adopt a social mindset -- open and collaborative -- is the most effective strategy in the connected era. Perhaps it is time for our politicians to study successful social business leaders and take a lesson.

I recently researched the social activities of all 100 U.S. senators with the intent to better understand collaboration behaviors of our most prominent elected officials. According to, I was able to profile the social activity of all senators and here's a high-level summary of my findings:

  • Nearly 10 percent of the U.S. Senators do not have a Twitter account. All but three had Facebook accounts.
  • More than one in five Senators have a Klout score that is below 40 [scale of 0-100]. Klout is the standard measure of digital influence, measuring the engagement levels of social media users. The average Klout score is said to be 40. My @Klout score is 71 which is higher than 90 percent of the U.S. Senators. I am certainly not more influential but based on Klout's algorithm, I have a higher reach and I am more engaged than all but 10 U.S. Senators on social media.
  • I randomly checked some of the most active Twitter accounts only to find very little 'true engagement' and more announcements of policies and events. Being social is more than just having a Facebook or a Twitter account and having uni-directional communication -- think telephone, not megaphone. For the record, I view Cory Booker [@corybooker], Mayor of Newark, N.J., as the gold standard for socially active and engaged elected official.

My summary of findings is that there is much room for improved social collaboration in the Senate, which is something that is also true for many businesses today. It is outside the scope of this post for me to share potential solutions for improved collaboration such as crowdsourcing voter recommendations in each state or greater transparency re: senators' support base and personal views of future legislation. The benefits of collaboration are ultimately renewed interest and trust in our leaders and better understanding of the mutual benefits of said initiatives. Greater collaboration will also lead faster execution of disposition on difficult legislation. It will never be perfect, but it can be better.

A social mindset in Washington goes well beyond the Twitter accounts of our elected officials. Most of our congressional and executive leadership in Washington use social tools to reflect their positions. My perception is these social tools are used for a monologue, not a dialogue. This is not a social mindset. To connect to your customers -- your constituents, employees, colleagues, suppliers, etc. -- you need to have a social mindset that allows for transparency, accountability, and trust. Too much that is done in Washington is for self-interested goals. A social mindset has the best interests of all parties in mind. Win-win is always a path to the best long-term solution. No solution is perfect; therefore collaboration and compromise are the tools used for successful completion of any endeavor where multiple interests are being considered.

Today we are faced with gridlock conditions that exist in our businesses and our country -- an example of this is the fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff has the potential to derail any hints of economic recovery and throw the U.S. back into recession. The impacts of sequestration budget cuts to entitlements, defense and general government spending increases, and the tax increases across the board will impact almost all Americans. Only through collaboration can we successfully tackle such enormously difficult challenges. According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, Americans overwhelming want Congress and the president to come to a compromise.

This desire to seek compromise is part of the social mindset which is transforming today's business. Achieving compromise in difficult circumstances, with mutual benefits, is a sign of strength, not weakness. Successful businesses employ leaders who see the benefits of a social mindset. Social executives understand that these principles are the path to forward progress. We all have a desire to see this common sense approach in the DNA of our political landscape and the guiding principles of our national elected leaders.

Collaboration is one of the most important attributes of any leader. What type of people are the most collaborative? An interesting statement was made recently by some of our women congressional leaders. Senator Suzanne Collins (R-Maine) told ABC's Diane Sawyer that "I think if we [women] were in charge of the Senate and of the administration, we would have a budget deal by now. With all deference to our male colleagues, women's styles tend to be more collaborative."

No matter your gender or back ground, everyone has the capacity to collaborate if they lead with humility and grace. To collaborate effectively, you need to be purpose driven and find the right "why." Social business and social people drive themselves by consistently finding the right "why." Our politicians have many "whys" that should drive the collaboration needed to solve difficult, but important predicaments.

As business leaders, we work hard every day to help ensure the success of our company. We know that it feels good to win; it feels even better to win as a team; and it feels best when we share our successes with customers and business partners. Congress needs more wins with the American people. Our elected leaders need to create and share their wins by working collaboratively and driving value for our country, our citizens, and our global community.

In the book, The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence, which I co-authored with my colleague Brad Martin, we talk about the impact of the social revolution in business and the importance of leadership transparency, humility and respect to bolster execution velocity and customer delight. A social business cultivates a culture of courage, transparency, meritocracy, openness, and shared accountability. Our Congress can look to our American business leaders -- who represent some of the most social and successful leaders in the world -- as an example to follow to help solve the gridlock that is crippling our confidence in Washington.

In this social and mobile era, people have choices and voices that are scaled and amplified like never before. To truly connect, we must do so by way of a personalized and mutually beneficial approach. To collaborate with the ethos of value exchange, we must embrace social collaboration. We live in a connected world, where businesses must be able to change and adapt in order to achieve sustainable growth. Washington should take a lesson.

This post was co-authored by Vala Afshar and Brad Martin, authors of "The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence."

This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Blogworld, in conjunction with the latter's BusinessNext Social 2013. That event will feature some of the world's leading social-business luminaries and influencers, each of whom will be speaking at the event to provide an up-close look at how the world's most successful businesses harness the power of social.