Friday, October 07, 2011

Digital Leadership

Recently, as Dean of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organization's Symposium in Chicago, Illinois, we explored what it meant to "Grow (and strengthen) Leaders in an Increasingly Virtual Work Environment." 

As we continuously explore the proficiencies and styles of effective leadership from an organizational perspective, we now have the added dimension of having to help evolve the leaders of the future in a disbursed, de-centralized work environment. When face-to-face interaction brings so much depth to connection and relationship, what do we need to look at when it comes to growing the human-based leaders of the future, especially if we may not ever meet them in person and work with them in real time? Ralph Mercer, charged with the Modernization of Non-Commisioned Member Professional Development System and Professional Military Education Program for the Canadian Military, highlights some of the key points we have to pay attention to, a point of view we considered and used in our contextual framework at the symposium.

Digital leadership - Ralph Mercer

Early in my career I was taught 10 basic principles of leadership.. while the words have changed over the years to reflect contemporary language and changing culture.. these below still hold true.

●    Know your job
●    Know your strengths and limitations
●    Always seek self-improvement
●    Lead by example and be consistent
●    Make sure your team knows your intent and then lead them to accomplishment
●    Know your people and take care of them before yourself
●    Develop the leadership potential in your people
●    Make sound and timely decisions
●    Train your people as a team and challenge them to their fullest potential
●    Keep your people informed,
●    Provide clear vision and make your orders understood

We practiced Social Networking in a way, back then, in the form of "O" groups, gathering everyone into a circle, sharing issues and the days directions, accepting feedback and re-explaining the mission until everyone understood the intent and goal.  Leadership then, as is now was about people and communication and that is why I’m a SM advocate. It too is about people and communication. No matter where you are or who you are with, if you practice these simple tenets you will be the leader... online or face to face it’s that simple (and that hard).

So is there a difference in leading virtually? Yes.  You are not present, so the cues that come with physical presence are missing… the ability to look into their eyes and read fear, confusion and clarity of purpose, read their body language, to have that quiet word to motivate when needed, and to just shake their hand. But before we run off and design whole new leadership paradigms to compensate, we need to provide a little context. This is not new, we have provided leadership via, messenger, telegraph, radio and telephone and have been successful.

The virtual environment is the latest evolution of communication and we are adapting to it. It is a lot more work to lead from a distance or virtually; clarity is key in everything you post or send, it must be clear in intent and message. There is the lack of context you provide by your presence, so it must be compensated for in the virtual environment. But that's not to say there aren't some ways to ensure that virtual and digital leadership is executed and used properly: When I talk about digital leadership I promote these principles;

New-ish leadership principles for the digital age
●    Empower your team
●    Connect them socially (wired and organic)
●    Establish a credible feedback loop, (you must answer promptly)
●    Own the culture (build a network of trust)
●    Articulate a Clear vision (build common purpose)
●    Be transparent but be THE leader
●    Create your vision.. Always move towards it
●    Focus on what matters
●    Know your people, take care of them first, challenge them
●    Listen and set the example
●    Always learn from your team

One thing I have noticed (not to my surprise), is that leaders who are poor in person are still lousy leaders in the digital environment.

Virtual leadership is more collaborative and therefore relies more on trust while in the physical, your presence and confidence can balance the trust requirement. There is also a danger in the connected world for leaders to want too much information and not make timely decisions. Instead, we wait for that next piece of information, (I call it information blindness, like a snow storm where each flake is small but enough of them will stop you from seeing the path). We only need about 50-70% of the required information to make informed decisions, the connected world gets that info to us faster.

I also think we forget that leadership is about people and communications, not technology. Even virtually, it must remain a human experience, even if it is not physical. One of the cool things about digital leadership, is the reach of your vision. In the physical room I can effect only those that can hear me and see me; online that distance become irrelevant.

Follow Ralph on Twitter @ralphmercer

No comments: