Posted by: davidhayden | November 25, 2012

Leaders: Avoid the Technology Trap or You Are Doomed to Fail


 Great leaders don’t need cell phones

What does it benefit someone to have all the data in the world but lose their ability to lead?

A friend emailed me recently lamenting the loss of leadership where she works. She laments:

 What’s going on these days? I sit in meetings deemed so
important that it is mandatory attendance, yet 1/2 the people
are so disengaged the spend they entire meeting texting on
their cell phones, many even bring in their laptops. But what
really pushed me over the edge was when I realized the
person I was sitting next to emailed my boss asking him when
I was going to complete his pet task for the day.

I was sitting right there, next to him . . . Unbelievable!

Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Washington, Jefferson, to name a few, were all great leaders and accomplished unimaginable goals and with out cell phones, email or instant messaging. As it appears now, technology is supplanting leadership. With adequate technology, does leadership even matter?

 You Can Manage Circumstances but You MUST Lead People

Yes, leadership matters and here’s why.

Sure technology allows us to monitor, manage and communicate a wide array of inputs and outputs, but is so much data always a good thing?

To lead effectively good information is essential, but more than that leaders need:

  1. critical thinking skills to filter out noise.
  2. just enough information to make effective decisions and no more.
  3. to be proactive towards important goals and not simply reactive to circumstances and personalities.
  4. to care more about the success of those they lead than their own.

In particular, points one and two are more relevant than ever. Technology has created so many inputs and competing priorities it is easy to get lost.

Leaders must have the critical thinking skills to filter out what needs to be addressed and what is merely a distraction. Turning the ship around and re-tasking employees, every time there’s an urgent email suggests the leader is clueless. It highlights the lack of clear focus. It tells employees the “most important” task they were assigned to work really wasn’t that important at all. It tells employees the manager has no plan.

 Only Having a Know Plan is NO Plan at all

Leaders need to stay informed and suffer consequences if they don’t. They are pulled into meetings at the last minute and grilled for the latest updates. So knowing is important, but it is not a plan is it?

So leaders fire up cell phones, PDAs and computers, monitor dashboards, emails and instant messages. They know down to the minute who is present, which machines are up and running, where the deliveries are and the status of shipping so they can react at a minutes notice.

But reacting isn’t leading is it? Nor is it planning to succeed. Sure there is a flurry of activity to address the latest “opportunity” but that is not productivity. The problem with the information overload is that, without sufficient goals and appropriate planning, the information simply creates chaos and ultimately organizations degrade into entropy.

It’s easy to get sucked in though. So much seemingly urgent information comes so fast that isn’t actually important but demands reaction. Everything is stopped and resources re-prioritized but at the end of the day, all the effort was for naught and truly important things fall father behind.

Information for information’s sake is a distraction. But at least managers can go into meetings armed with the latest data and able to say that something was done.

 Meetings, Meetings and more Meetings

It is not uncommon for managers to complain about not having enough time to do their job because they spend their entire day in meetings. I personally know people who have had in excess of 10 hrs of mandatory meetings scheduled for an 8 hr period.

One advantage of having immediate access to information available is leaders can instantly communicate the latest developments and priorities to their employees; even while viewing endless PowerPoint presentations of questionable data presented with the utmost authority.

Meetings are essential for getting people together to solve problems and make plans. Show-and-tell meetings, however, seem to only serve the need to autopsy something that went wrong or right but is unlikely to repeat. Or worse, to show “look what we have done about this.”

With the available technology it is ironic that precious leadership time is consumed attending information only meetings. As a result managers attempt to manage by uninspiring text messages and emails.

The better solution is for managers become leaders again and work with employees to achieve great things. Then use the technology for it’s intended purpose . . . exchanging pertinent information. The more managers engage in business function the better their opportunity to lead and improve their organizations.

Stop Texting and Start Leading

There was a great fear/dream when computers first came out that paper would go away. But instead we use more paper than ever. There was a similar dream that all this wonderful technology would put information at people’s fingertips and there could be far fewer meetings. To this day the dream that technology will free managers up to better lead their employees is still alive.

Unfortunately the opposite appears to be the case. Managers, being more comfortable sorting through mountains of data, have moved away from leading people. Rather than freeing up managers, information overload has encumbered them.

Instead of using technology to avoid meetings, technology is being used to push faceless requests to employees while managers attend MORE meetings. With too much information and not enough critical thinking, a manager’s commitment to important decisions extends only to the next urgent message.

People (aka employees) respond to leadership. Businesses thrive because of leadership. My advice to managers is to:

  1. Cancel all meetings that do not solve problems or brainstorm ideas.
  2. Only invite essential people to meetings, even if it hurts someone’s feelings to be left out.
  3. Use technology instead of meetings to exchange general information.
  4. Lead people through direct interaction.
  5. Carbon copy emails sparingly so when people do get an email from you they will pay attention to it.
  6. If you are required to attend a meeting, put the devices away and pay attention. If there is no tangible benefit to attending, skip the meeting and ask to be removed from the invitee list.

 In short put away the cell phone and answer the call to leadership.

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Responses

  1. Right on the money Dave!


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