LEADERSHIP IN THE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AGE
There are many definitions of leadership, but most people seem to accept that no matter how it is defined, leadership involves inspiring others, creating vision, sharing goals, and achievement with and through others. The whole notion of effective leadership is therefore predicated on close and effective communication between all members of the team, but in particular with and by the leader. Good communication is the “glue” that binds the team and enables the leader to achieve results with and through the other members of the team.
Leaders at all levels must therefore really know and understand the people in their teams and be able to communicate with them.
So how is new technology, particularly information technology, affecting the ability of leaders to communicate with their people, while also ensuring that other members of the team communicate effectively with each other?
There is anecdotal evidence of a growing trend by people, even in the same offices, communicating with each other by e-mail, often to express sensitive matters or resolve problems, when clearly face-to-face contact would be the best approach.
This trend is of concern as research by Professor Albert Mehrabian and others shows that words by themselves are about 7% of effective understanding, the sound 38% and the body language 55%.
This is not to say that the wonders of IT are entirely detrimental to communication. The fast and cheap transfer of masses of information in new and fascinating forms is without doubt of great benefit. But we should be wary that the impersonal passage of information be seen as a substitute for effective communication, particularly by leaders.
Information is only part of communication. It adds value but does not of itself create value. IT is a tool, an enabler, it is not an end in itself, except of course if you are in the IT business! Information needs interpretation, and the application of empathy, understanding, experience and even wisdom in relationships between people to result in effective communication.
John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends, predicted that the more “high-tech” we become, the more “high-touch” we need to be. Yet IT companies are now advertising that you don’t have to go to meetings any more. You can participate from the comfort and privacy of your own web browser. How can we be high-touch without at least figuratively touching?
It is also claimed that IT enables “any kind of training”. In our view the IT industry is a long way from providing a credible substitute for learning about leadership by participating from the comfort and privacy of a web browser!
Any comments or dissenting views? We would like to hear them.