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3 Rules That Define Leadership in a Digital Age
By: Inc.
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The integration of technology into the workplace has created a whole new slew of changes leaders. Workers no longer show up at 9AM ready to be instructed, old notions of command and control fail in a distributed workplace (and with younger generations) and much of today's thinking revolves around leveraging collaboration technology to solve many of these problems. Additionally, each worker considers themselves to be an independent entity, replete with a brand image, a media consumption preference, and prioritized decision triggers, all run through a personal technology stack.


My company began studying the impact of technology on culture back in 2016, when we launched our first Culture & Technology Intersection study. Out of this research, we identified three major macro trends, which together provide a blueprint for leaders attempting to marshal the forces at their disposal in a digitally immersed workplace.


Here are the three trends:


Seeking control in an out-of-control world.


This first macro trend describes a sweeping shift in consumer sentiment, where people often feel that the world is spinning out of control and that institutions are no longer operating in their best interests.


In our study 60 percent of respondents said they believe that many of the smart devices are listening in without our consent or knowledge. A full 68 percent believe that big tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, or Facebook have too much power to influence society. And 84 percent say they're wary of sensitive personal information being stored on servers in other countries. But against all of this, people still say they're striving for control over their own outcomes and circumstances, with 58 percent agreeing and only 13 percent disagreeing. 

 

The big take-away for leaders here is that trust is low in the world today, so the need to over-communicate issues relating to control and trust is paramount: the more control you can push into the hands of workers, the more trustworthy you become.


Look at how Blake Irving turned around the culture at GoDaddy, reversing the "command and control" leadership style of his predecessor, pushing control of budgets, strategies, and execution down into the hands of the specific team leaders responsible. It worked.


The need for raw proof.


When asked to believe something, it's becoming more of a priority for people to want to see the proof. About 68 percent of respondents in the survey agree with this sentiment. For instance, when it comes to how brands launch new products, 74 percent of people prefered frequent communication and co-development over grand unveilings, where the brand holds all the information for a surprise launch.


This is a shift in perspective from being the "protagonist" who tells others what to think and towards being the "Greek Chorus," and providing context around the raw evidence. In leadership this could be organizational challenges, key metrics, or individual performance criteria. 


John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile has become the perpetually off-script, irreverent iconoclast of the mobile carrier world, with more Twitter followers than the corporate accounts of all his competitors combined. Legere uses his unique platform and personality to speak directly to the public for hours a day, living his life and promoting his brand in a decidedly off-script manner. He described the beginning of this new mindset when on stage in Las Vegas, he "snapped," throwing out his prepared script of corporate-speak and speaking viscerally about the industry, his frustrations, and why things needed to change. He never looked back, thankfully. 


Heroic credibility and brand values alignment go a long way.


The only messages that truely break through are those that align with deep, personal values. Fifty-five percent of respondents say that they want to know what a brand stands for just as much as they want to know what it can do. Sixty-two percent of respondents agree that they prefer brands that show bravery in the marketplace and that don't back down when faced with push-back.

 

Leaders should be comfortable embracing ideas bigger than the brand's narrowly defined product category, and at the same time avoid the ego trap of falling into "brand militancy" (where brands attempt to attach themselves to social or political positions that have nothing to do with the brand itself). Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has downplayed consumerism as much as any brand can possibly manage, telling consumers "Don't Buy This Jacket," while championing environmental causes and sustainability. 


It's important to be mindful that in this current day and age, when every member of the team is technologically enabled, immersed in information, and able to receive and rebroadcast information in second, leaders should give as much attention to how they communicate with the team as they do with their customers.




By Stephen Dennymanaging director, Denny Leinberger Strategy


   

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