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How technology changes leadership

“I’m not a tech person.” You will hear that said much more often than “I’m not a finance person”, but it’s no more acceptable.

A robot

Are you ready to lead people through a technologically-changing business world? It’s not as daunting as it may sound. Trust in the people around us, and an acceptance of the need to constantly learn, are the key ingredients in navigating new technologies and innovations. Let me explain.

A global survey of business leaders on the future of work found that 76% expect automation technology to require new workforce skills; 42% expect an increased use of robotics in their business model, and Millennials expect a mobile, flexible, work environment. Business leaders need to be prepared for this changing environment, or perish.

Technology, particularly connected digital technology, can be an enabler and a disrupter of business leaders. Working out effective ways to use the latest app, or moving offline processes online, for example, might not be every leader’s strong point but it’s critical they gain an understanding of the beast they’re dealing with. Whether you lead a small team or a huge corporation, you will need to make informed and sensible decisions about how to use and integrate new technology as part of your leadership toolkit.

How does technology disrupt leadership?

The exponential growth in connected digital technology has significantly disrupted the concept and application of leadership. For example, there has been a huge shift to agile and remote working, made possible through technology. People used to manage and lead on the premise that they were co-located with teams and that this was in fact a necessity. Now it’s accepted that teams do not need to be in the same building, or even the same time zone. This fundamental shift requires business leaders to focus on their own growth and development in order to adapt to a different way of managing their people. Those who don’t recognize and work with the increasing complexity of business will be left behind.

Changing the focus on leaders as experts to leaders as learners — a growth mindset — is a significant change. Attempting to know it all is a flawed approach and leaders today are required to develop a more sophisticated toolkit based around emotional intelligence, in addition to technical competency. In other words, you need the skills to lead a team of experts. You don’t need to be an expert in everything yourself.

How does technology enable leadership?

Technology is radically transforming the ways in which we work and manage people. With the shift to remote working, there’s a shift of focus to outcomes as measurements of success. If you’re the leader of a remote team of digital marketers and content producers, you will need to work with those people on the basis of trust in order to let them do their thing. Any leader who works from a platform of fear and suspicion is going to absolutely hinder this environment. As a leader you have to let go and focus your attention on the landscape ahead, and not be looking over people’s (virtual) shoulders all the time. Leaders need to build trusting relationships very quickly and there are practical methods for doing that.

For many current senior leaders, (Boomers and Gen X) their whole modus operandi has been about being in the same room as their people. But adaption to the new connectivity is vital. You have to work with it or get left behind. Millennials are digital natives: it’s not a problem for them. Most global businesses are well and truly down this track.

Being a disruptive leader, rather than being disrupted

This can turn on a dime. It’s a question of ego. Leaders today who are operating from a strong position of ego will be challenged to flex with change as required. Any leader who believes they are immune to disruption themselves is naïve. The skill for leaders lies in the ability to hold both realities simultaneously: ride the waves of disruption and harness them for success.

It’s worth mentioning that for the first time in history, our business leaders are not the people who know most about the platforms and systems that are running our businesses. So to earn respect from the younger generation, they have to demonstrate an understanding of this new reality, otherwise they lose authority in the eyes of their younger employees.

Providing a safe environment for learning

In my own experience as a GM I know how important it is to provide psychological safety for my people. If people feel unsafe or threatened, their capacity to learn is curtailed as they are instead focusing on ‘survival’. This is a well known reaction of the sympathetic nervous system. Learning is central to our success today and we must realise that inherent in learning are mistakes. This can feel counterintuitive when the stakes are high, but it is imperative that leaders remain calm so their people can focus their attention on learning, growing and innovating.

Leaders can’t ignore technology

“I’m not a tech person.” You will hear that said much more often than “I’m not a finance person”. But it’s no more acceptable.

To ignore new technology is to apply a fixed mindset and this won’t work in today’s business world. It’s a good idea to examine the underlying fears or barriers that lead to that mindset. This is where coaching and mentoring is a powerful intervention. Having an experienced coach or mentor around provides the psychological space for leaders to bounce their underlying thoughts and emotions off, so these don’t play out in their decisions and leadership.

Technology is neutral, but how we use it is not

In itself, technology is neutral. It doesn’t inherently break silos, or increase productivity. It is how we apply those new tools and understand them that assigns biases or prejudices. Technology is ALWAYS designed from the principle of generating greater efficiencies. It is our mastery of that technology that determines whether we are achieving those outcomes or not. Hence, the importance of a growth mindset in which we are learning new tricks constantly.

I can’t say for certain what the future looks like for business leaders, but I believe strongly that we are co-creating that future as we speak. This is why I am involved in supporting leaders to have the right mindset and skills to navigate that road. If we are driven by fear and have a fixed mindset, the outcomes are likely to reflect that. If leaders operate from a growth mindset and are firmly oriented in their values, they will navigate change positively and the outcomes will reflect that. It’s time to invest in the right mindset now so the future looks bright.

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