Leadership in the digital age

Great leaders know effective communication is a two-way street.

In 1994, Steve Jobs famously said, “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them the tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”

Nearly 30 years later, technology looks vastly different, but the people who use it are essentially the same. We use what tools are available to do the best work possible. Every passing day, we rely more and more on technology, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still need one another. If anything, we need connection now more than ever.

Take some advice from a few leaders who see the opportunities to use their people skills to do wonderful things in our ever-changing digital environment.

Glenn Gibson quotation on what leaders should focus on

We need stability

Good leaders provide a solid foundation when outside forces upend our steady routines. They reassure us with consistent communication and execute plans to usher us through whatever change is required.

It goes without saying that a global pandemic has been a test, with make-or-break consequences. The organizations that survive and thrive are the ones with a clear path through the rough patches and a voice at the top providing consistent, transparent communication.

Motivating employees requires purposeful, honest communication,” said Glenn Gibson, author of “Before the Mic: How to Compose Meaningful, Memorable, and Motivational Presentations.”

“Great leaders and presenters learn to focus more on what the audience needs to hear, rather than on what they want to say,” Gibson reminds us.

Of course, this has always been the case, but remote work environments have put that message into sharper focus.

Good leaders know that effective communication is a two-way street. They listen and understand how employees work so they can provide the tools to make it happen — whether it’s in an office or at home.  A digital foundation is a big part of providing the stability employees need. Without the ability to collaborate and access information, workforces struggle and, eventually, abandon ship.

Bronwyn Saglimbeni quote on what kind of leaders thrive

We need agility

“Those who really struggled over the past year are the ‘butts in seats’ leaders — the folks who were only satisfied when they saw people ‘busy’ and at their desks,” said Bronwyn Saglimbeni, communications coach, speaker and podcast host. “But the leaders who were more focused on outcomes and delivering excellence? The leaders who didn’t care how the work got done, just that it got done well? Those leaders are thriving.”

The first step is learning to be comfortable with a remote or hybrid workforce and laying the groundwork for agility with digital solutions, like the cloud.

“Because there is no way to interact and collaborate effectively within your organization with your colleagues who are remote and distributed if your information and processes aren’t digitized,” said Bill Priemer, president and CEO of Hyland.

It’s also crucial to adapt priorities and focus on what really matters: outcomes. Whether they’re in an office or not, leaders who can shift the focus toward more meaningful outcomes — rather than empty measurements of productivity — will find that employees are much more willing and able to share in that vision.

Most leaders are used to taking it all on and doing everything themselves. It’s that “hand me the ball and I’ll run with it” mentality. But continual innovation requires a flexible mindset that welcomes new ideas and fresh perspectives. A constant pursuit of high-impact technology attracts and empowers the next generation of leaders.

Michael Nyenhuis quote

We need connection

Good leaders look at technology not as a barrier to or replacement for in-person communication, but as another means to human connection.

“Leaders had to collectively let go of the old notions of ‘work’ and learn how to foster connections in one of the toughest environments imaginable,” Saglimbeni said. “Leaders learned that excellence is only possible when we feel connected to each other and when we rally around a shared vision, bringing our best self to the task of realizing that vision.”

UNICEF is a global organization that operates locally to make a huge impact on the lives of millions. It has found a way to help on a large scale by giving local people the autonomy to use their knowledge of cultural differences and insights.

Michael Nyenhuis, president and CEO of UNICEF, points to the organization’s “global structure that allows for very local expression of work.”

UNICEF couldn’t do what it does without a shared mission and oversight from the top.

“At every level of the organization, there are metrics that we’re trying to achieve with clear progress indicators along the way,” he said. “And people are held accountable to them. We want to get stuff done. We’re not just do-gooders.”

Organizations operating globally, locally, or somewhere in between benefit from embracing a work-from-anywhere mindset. The right technology tools empower a connected workforce that shares information and delivers consistent results.

Hiring has changed quite a bit as far as this forced-remote landscape is concerned,” said Lisa Weingart, a talent acquisition partner at Hyland. “Perhaps the biggest impact is that we can hire from anywhere with the majority of our roles being open to remote work — Cleveland, Texas, New York, Miami, Poland, you name it. Not only are we opening up the candidate pool to more diverse backgrounds, but we’re benefitting by adding that value of their thoughts and experiences to our teams.”

Technology cannot replace good leadership. It doesn’t motivate, empathize or provide reassurance. But, using the right technology can help good leaders break down barriers, empower collaboration and improve decision-making. We can take those tools and do something wonderful with them.

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