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The Implications of Live Streaming for Leaders

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Man on his iPhone

By now you’ve probably heard of Periscope or seen a live video stream on your Facebook timeline. They are taking over social media. Our timelines are becoming increasingly littered by these live videos, with anything from scenes from your friend who is traveling abroad to your neighbor’s daughter’s 6th grade ballet performance. Celebrities are getting into the act too, checking in with fans from their glossy homes or promoting their next venture.

Gone are the days when most videos were slickly produced, heavily dependent upon high-dollar camera equipment and hours of behind-the-scenes editing. Now anyone who owns a smartphone can instantly stream a video from just about anywhere in the world.

Tech companies are fueling this growth, as a report championed by Cisco predicts that by 2020, 75% of the world’s mobile traffic will be video. Facebook has launched its own live video function as a part of its service. Twitter recently bought Periscope, an entire app devoted to live video streaming. Google, not to be left out, is reportedly finalizing its own standalone app for live video. What does all of this mean for leaders? Let’s look first at what this craze with live video says about our culture.

People crave authenticity

Authenticity is perhaps the most desired quality that people are wanting from their leaders today. Ours is the post-Watergate, post-Wikileaks era, where we increasingly distrust those in power. Just look at the talking points of the presidential candidates as they try to woo voters. From both sides come the common themes of corrupt Wall Street bankers, inept Washington “insiders,” and “rigged” systems. Live video emerges as a powerful communication tool in this culture of distrust because it gives the perception of reality. “Live” equates to “real” for this generation.

People crave immediacy

Sherry Turkle’s excellent book Reclaiming Conversation highlights some of the effects that always-on technology is having on our culture. One of the most pernicious effects is known by the acronym FOMO: fear of missing out. Social media creates the illusion that other people’s lives are more exciting than my own. It also creates a whole new category for connecting with others. No one wants to be caught not having seen the latest viral video or not knowing about the latest news bombshell spreading on Twitter and Facebook. Live video taps into the desire we all have to not only know what’s going on, but to feel close to the action. If you take it one step further, it also reveals that we innately desire to “know” our leaders at a deeper level, to see the real, authentic sides of their lives, and live videos create that connection.

People are increasingly distracted

It is mind-boggling to think of the collective time we spend as a culture consuming media. Just with the Periscope app alone, the company shares with us that its users watch over 100 years (about 1 million hours) of live streams every day. Think of the sheer waste of time this is. Add video watching to our penchant for Netflix, for live sports, and for scrolling through our news feeds, and you have time for little else in the day. With so many options before people, the easiest option is to just ride the wave of what’s popular without diving deeply into any one pursuit. We’re living a mile wide and an inch deep.

How can leaders respond to and engage with a culture of live video streaming? Here are three simple suggestions. First, lead people to quiet places. In an era of distraction, people crave depth; they just don’t know how to facilitate it in their own lives. Second, focus on what can’t be replicated online. The power of connecting face-to-face in person is unmatched by any technology, as is the synergy of a room full of people bouncing ideas off one another. Third, focus on helping others make meaning out of their lives. In a fragmented world of so many “small” stories, help others see how their lives relate to the “large” story of what God is doing.

Max DePree says the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. So as a Christian leader, help those distracted and confused and overwhelmed by social media to see that God has a purpose and plan for their lives. Help them see how their job makes a difference. This means that, as leaders, we have to let people into our lives, allowing them see the struggles just as much as the successes. Good leadership isn’t as simple as live-streaming, but thankfully the answer is not in our own performance, but in pointing people to the greatest leader who ever lived, the most authentic, humble, and powerful leader of all—Jesus. When we let people into our lives, we do so to point to his grace at work within us. He’s the real answer to the leadership our generation craves.

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