how technology is changing leadership
Leadership | April 21, 2015
If you asked any of the world’s most prominent business leaders to share one word to describe the state of business today, there’s a good chance that most of them would say “change.” Quite simply, the concepts of leadership and management, and organizational structures themselves, are not the same as they were even a decade ago — and continue to change all the time.
The notion of modern leadership is getting a lot of attention in business schools, boardrooms, and the media. Business leaders talk about being flexible and agile, about fostering collaboration and cooperation among all levels of the organization, and about moving toward a more lateral style of management, and doing away with the traditional, hierarchical structures that tend to lead to stagnation and bureaucracy. The fact is, though, that many businesses continue to struggle with the reality of such change. As a result they remain caught in a sort of organizational limbo, making steps toward the more contemporary structures while still hanging on to the familiar hierarchies.
One factor that’s spurring many leaders toward the new paradigm, though, is technology. We are using technology more than ever before in ways that even a few years ago would have seemed impossible. For many leaders, these technological innovations are making it possible to create more participatory organizations.
Changing Definitions of Success
The increased reliance on technology means that every leader, regardless of industry, needs to focus on technology and what it means to his or her organization. In fact, in many organizations, the role of Chief Executive Officer has morphed into, or even taken a back seat to, the role of Chief Information Officer. CIOs are charged with ensuring that the company is maximizing technological resources to increase new business and innovation while keeping costs in check. What’s most interesting about the rise of the CIO, though, is that the source of a CIOs success isn’t tied to their authority, relationships, or even their knowledge. The success of a CIO is tied closely to results — in other words, the more effectively a CIO can apply technology to their organization’s mission, the more successful he or she is.
Building upon the notion that a CIOs success no longer relies on authority, thanks to technology, leadership is no longer about power — it’s about influence. Being a leader no longer means “bossing” someone or telling them what to do but modeling what needs to be done and explaining the purpose. Much of this stems from generational differences. Millennials have grown up with technology and understand its capabilities and applications better than any generation before. They don’t just want to be told what to do; they want to know why they are doing it, and have an important role in the process. Simply telling a Millennial to complete a task because “that’s how it’s always been done,” is probably not going to garner the same results as collaborating, modeling, and influencing.
Collaboration is the cornerstone of modern leadership. Rather than being “in charge,” collaborative leaders blur the lines between “boss” and “worker” and focus on team building, creative thinking, and participation from all levels. How does technology fit into this?
Many experts point to the internet as one source of collaborative inspiration, in particular social media. Social media has revolutionized the way we communicate and how groups organize themselves. Social media isn’t built upon traditional social hierarchies, but instead equalizes individuals, who then organize themselves to collaborate and share information. The Internet thrives on participation and engagement, and leaders who can tap into that enthusiasm tend to have more success than those who simply assign tasks.
On a more practical level, technology has made collaboration possible in a wider variety of scenarios. For example, teams don’t have to be in the same room to meet thanks to video conferencing technologies, and the cloud has made it possible to share files and applications in seconds. In short, creating talented teams from a more diverse pool.
Today’s most effective leaders are those who not only embrace technology and all of its potential, but who embrace change itself. While we can’t expect the traditional top-down structure of many organizations to disappear entirely, it’s changing every day.