Online technologies are now reshaping the way leadership and management are practiced in many organizations. Leaders are adapting to technology and leverage these innovations to increase their time efficiency and productivity.
Last March 2020, world leaders logged to participate in the G20 Conference to discuss cooperation in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other items of the agenda, the leaders tackled the problem of massive unemployment and the economic downturn as a result of the public health crisis. Among those who attended the online meeting where US President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, to name a few.
While these leaders had staff to prepare, monitor, and operate the various gadgets and technologies used for the video conference, they demonstrated the changing nature of international diplomacy, leadership, and management. More than ever, leaders of governments are relying on communications technology to manage national and international affairs. Video conferencing for such high-profile personalities also unburdens their schedules, lessens operating and travel costs, and reduces the security risks that accompany their jobs as government officials or ruling monarchs.
The same is true for business conglomerates and firms with cross-border operations. Business plans, proposals, and presentations prepared by staff are now supplemented by kits for smartphone and laptop screen repair, just in case technical problems arise during a meeting or while on travel. They also have back up phones and laptops packed wherever they go across town or overseas to do business.
For top business leaders, time is of the essence and connectivity with key people in the enterprise needs to be maintained 24/7. Gone are the days of snail mail and long-distance phone calls. These communication methods have been replaced by Zoom meetings, Slack portals, and even Viber community groups. These applications make coordination swift, allowing leaders to get information from their people from various levels of the organization. In the same way, the leader can now issue instructions and guidance in real-time, which is incomparable in speed to the traditional routing of memoranda from top to bottom.
The value of technologies to governments, businesses, and other types of organizations is undeniable. Top leaders have developed the following principles and best practices in the use of online leadership and management that are worth emulation.
1. Technology Is a Tool, Not a Replacement for Leadership
Effective leaders are very adaptable and respond quickly to changes in the business environment. However, they are clear about their leadership role. For them, technology is a tool and not a replacement for their actual exercise of leadership. Technology makes it faster and more convenient to meet with people online or to send messages via text or email. But their value still lies in their ability to gather and process information from staff and their reports, set strategies and map out plans, delegate responsibilities, and monitor progress of work. They also use these technologies as a platform to apply soft skills such as expression of verbal appreciation to raise the morale of this team. At times, in private, he also uses these tools to correct errors made by staff or to give instructions intended only for a specific person or group.
2. Listen More
A good leader knows how to speak persuasively and powerfully, especially in public or before a large group. However, a golden trait of a great leader is his art of listening. During online meetings, he may designate a senior officer or staff to moderate the discussion while he listens and take notes on presentations made and verbal reports delivered. He skillfully looks at his video screen to see non-verbal cues, which he sees as equally important to what is being said or shown. In the words of Stephen Covey, the author of the bestselling book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the good leader first “seeks to understand, and then to be understood”. By deliberately choosing not to speak too early in a meeting, the leader is able to hear out all the available information. He asks for all the relevant data to be presented or submitted electronically. This gives him or her the opportunity to study and make a well-informed, data-supported decision.
3. Choose the Right Tool: Email or Video Call
The leader also knows when and what technology to use. When a certain issue arises, he determines if it is urgent and needs to be discussed online immediately. In a video call, the leader can be briefed and make a decision swiftly, preventing loss of time and opportunity.
At other times, the leader will strategically use email to spell out instructions or send queries to specific staff. This email will allow the receiver to take stock and prepare whatever is needed to answer the query, hence, making it a more deliberate and prepared staff action or response. Online, due to limitations of time and perhaps technical difficulties, some details or information are not brought out and discussed.
4. Spend Time on One-on-one Meetings with Senior Staff
A leader also needs to spend quality time with each senior staff. These top-level managers also need a pep talk and personal guidance from their boss. There are also occasions when a senior manager needs private time to discuss matters that need not be brought out during a general meeting. The one-on-one sessions also convey how the leader values each senior staff as a fellow leader, friend, and confidante.
While the 21st-century leader is increasingly reliant on technology to do his job, he still needs to build and maintain relationships in the traditional, from person to person. He also needs to remember that technology is just a tool, and it up to the leader to choose what, when, and why he should use them. It is still his vision, character, skill, and personality that will inspire and motivate his followers to work and achieve organizational success.