Leadership – Technology Changes Everything?

I recently did a podcast interview with Charlie Oliver. Charlie founded an organization called Tech2025 which seeks to explore the nature of technological driven change over the next 10 years as it impacts people and business. The interview was fundamentally about leadership, and she asked me how technology would change the characteristics of good leaders. Based on the excellent media training I received during my Air Force career, (hat tip Kristi Beckman), I spun the question a bit to focus on what does not change about being a good leader in this age of cyberspace, artificial intelligence and the internet of everything.

One of my favorite quotes is that leadership is technology agnostic. As far as I know, I was the first one to say that, thus a favorite quote. My point is that the technology we have today is going to be different than the technology we have six months from now and radically different than the technology we will have 10 years from now. The constant we need to navigate the accelerating rate of technological change is good leadership. I argue that the essential characteristics of leadership are unchanged from 20 years ago before the internet was a thing and they are the same essentials that are required today and will be required 20 years from now when the internet looks completely different.

Cross generational leaders do two things well. The first is they establish and sustain organizational culture. They define the mission, vision, and critically, the values of the organization. They make sure that the company “walks the talk.” These are not things that are developed, read once and then sit on the shelf. Defining these in a collaborative fashion with employees, and making sure that executive leaders are constantly reinforcing this culture through their actions and words, allows the organization to stay focused and committed as technology changes the business, perhaps substantially.

The second thing good technology agnostic leaders do well is they provide vision, resources and motivation. The vision is all about how we are going to change the world. What is our company going to do that will make people remember us for more than just our successful IPO? Resources are in three categories—time, people and money. All three of those are critical to getting the job done, all three are finite resources, and all three must be managed to use them efficiently. Finally, motivation. You can think of this as compensation, but if a leader sees compensation as just the paycheck, they are missing the point of motivation. Employees have always wanted more out their work than just the paycheck. They want to feel like the work they are doing is challenging. They want to see their work makes a difference. They want to see a path that moves them forward both personally and professionally. They want their work to complement and enhance their personal lives, not to make their life at home miserable. And perhaps most importantly, people want to work for good leaders. Good leaders understand that motivation is about alignment. Helping people align their personal and professional goals to the goals of the business and vice-versa.

So, this only answers half of Charlie’s question. My next post will talk about what does change to be a successful leader today. And as a preview, it is all about communication and information. How do leaders leverage social media, open data sources and skip-echelon access up and down the management chain to make their companies successful.

Copyright 2019  Brett Williams, Maj Gen USAF (Ret)  All Rights Reserved.


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