Surprising Skills for Leadership in the Digital Age
What is going on with work at the moment?
We can work wherever we want and yet commute times are going up year on year as we play sardines on trains and sit in jams on motorways. We often spend longer and longer working (because we can) but get less done in the process. We used to have more cutting edge tech at work and now we have better stuff in our lounge, so we want to use it. We rush into the office only send emails to the person sitting opposite us rather than talk to them!
One thing is for sure – work is undergoing a seismic revolution driven by 6 ‘D’s. Some of these are on the rise. But some are gradually dying:
- The rise of Diversity – with 5 generations in the workforce already, one-size rarely fits all. Add in different cultures, personality types and life stages and flexibility and choice becomes essential to making work work for everyone.
- The rise of the Droid – as Artificial Intelligence starts to ‘hollow out’ many white collar jobs, traits that make us uniquely human (empathy, care, creativity, leadership, negotiation) become increasingly valuable skills for the future workforce.
- The death of Dolly (Parton) – actually Dolly’s not dead (at the time of writing anyway) but the ‘9 to 5’ might well be. Technology allows us to work anytime, anyplace and anywhere – but should we?
- The death of Dilbert – he’s not dead either but his cubicle is undergoing a revolution as office spaces start to be less about “bums on seats” and more about functionality and flexibility.
- The death of Distance – well, erm, that’s not dead either but global and distributed team working means that seeing the people we work with is now often a luxury and we need to engineer other ways of connecting with each other.
- The death of Dr No – this is all about the things that we bring with us from the consumer world. It starts with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) but extends to attitudes towards internal service providers, BYOO (Bring Your Own Office) and Wear Your Own Device (WYOD). Saying “no” is rarely an option – because we’ll do it anyway. So a bounded, safety conscious “yes” is far better. Soberingly for Dr No, although BYOD is widely practised within organisations, less than 50% have an official policy (according to 2014 BT research).
All of these ‘D’s are forcing organisations to rethink the ways that work works. Technology may untether us but we are still often anchored to the spot by our cultures, our habits and, critically, the ways in which we our leaders lead.
If we believe that we won’t get promoted or get a good bonus if we aren’t seen to be in the office or, if we don’t teach leaders to be comfortable with leading people that they never meet, we’ll spend longer and longer on planes, trains and automobiles.
Leaders need to become more social in their approach. I don’t mean that they should be active on social media (although that certainly is part of it). I mean that they need to be able to create connections.
In some senses, they need to be the perfect party hosts – understanding who is at the party, what they bring to it and networking interesting people together.
They need to be architects – creating spaces where their people will be productive and providing employees with choice because one-size-doesn’t-fit-all.
They need to engineer technological ‘common ground’ where people can come together regardless of where they happen to be – rather than allow them to fragment across technologies and continents (even floors, as separating people by one floor can have the same effect as them being in another country).
They need to be empathetic to people’s needs and encourage them to have some semblance of work-life balance (by having it themselves).
Above all they need to be revolutionaries – leading by another critical ‘D’ for digital leadership, Doing.