Leadership in a Digital Age

In the digital age, leaders must be more dynamic, more cognizant of technology’s unintended consequences, and more willing to trust and empower their team members. With the massive amount of information available and continuously evolving web tools that are driving evolutionary and revolutionary change in almost every education, healthcare, and business application, leaders are now responsible for executing their craft in a complex and ever-changing system. This environment has added logistical and cultural complexities to the leader’s area of responsibility while simultaneously increasing connectivity to the work environment and blurring the distinction between work and non-work activities. As a result of these factors, leaders have many more productivity options, but also many more platforms that require management, more opportunities to misuse resources or miscommunicate with far-flung team members, more direct connections to work-related subject matter, and more contexts through which to offer guidance and direction. To succeed in this era, leaders must be able to communicate strategic goals, empower team members to explore and use web resources, understand the connective power of the web, and manage to remain focused in a rapidly changing environment. In these tasks, a leader’s job in the new digital age is to inspire productivity in an incredibly complex ecosystem that now includes in-person, web, synchronous, and asynchronous components. Doing this requires technological knowledge, trust, and the ability to contextualize strategic organizational goals and ground-level employee interactions in a faster, more social communications landscape.    

In this course, we’ve examined the role of web leadership, and we’ve analyzed tools, assessed behaviors, and suggested techniques leaders can use to remain confident and capable in an internet world. During our discussions, I’ve been most struck by the changing nature of learning, and the increased pressure this puts on leaders as they build teams and develop strategies to increase employee capability. We are in the midst of the redefinition of ‘knowledge,’ with the ability to search for data quickly becoming as important as the possession of that data. By highlighting the quantity of information on the web, the increasing ease and decreasing cost of accessing that information, and the mobile nature of the new web experience, this course has convinced me that leaders will face a completely new training and capability management environment in the future. In this environment, leaders will be able to train employees in real-time to complete many tasks, and will rely on web applications to assist with the execution of tasks that previously required some pre-activity instruction. This change alters the relationships between experienced and new employees, and lessens the need to invest in lengthy, formal pre-employment training programs. While this influence is not specific to the training arena, I believe that skills transfer and employee learning are the areas that are most easily and notably disrupted by new web capabilities.

This course made me more aware of web technologies and tools, and convinced me that leadership in the web environment is about strategic knowledge and tactical trust. Web leaders must understand the web’s evolution and identify capabilities that are applicable for their business. Then, they must create working environments that support employee web engagement and interaction. In a dynamic world buffeted by evolutionary and revolutionary web changes, leaders are less able to manage and control information, and more able to up productivity and engagement with targeted web use. To succeed, leaders must recognize the viability of the web and embrace modern tools and communication techniques while simultaneously developing strategies to ensure employees represent their companies appropriately and safeguard company secrets. Moving forward, I will use the information I learned in this course to improve my professional web and social media presence, and I’m designing training solutions to account for the new learning environment. In doing so, my style will evolve to account for the tools I didn’t know existed and to provide opportunities for my employees to better use their talents and skills in a complex world that I cannot fully understand or hope to oversee. 

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6 thoughts on “Leadership in a Digital Age

  1. Your post was very passionate and very inspiring Timothy. This course has given all of us an excellent opportunity to network and share ideas with colleagues from within and outside our fields. The importance of networking opportunities cannot be stressed enough. From lawyer to doctor, teacher to administrator, there are certainly skills that we can all share together – and even benefit! Once you understand how or when to use something, particularly a new skill or technology tool, it gives individuals the opportunity to apply this to their field of work to make conditions better. While not always possible, in many cases this can be done, and can make situations in your own field more efficient. I don’t think as professionals we do this enough, and possibly because there is limited time to actually do this on a regular basis. As a leader, I will look for ways to continually interact and network with professionals in the field and others to help me to improve in my position.
    Your blogs were always very insightful Tim. I always looked forward to the ideas you would share out at the end of the week.

    • Thanks for the kind words; this has been a wonderful class and I’m looking forward to staying connected with everyone. As we’ve discussed many times, connection is capital in the web era, and we should all embrace this perspective as we move on…Take Care.

  2. Your phrase “tactical trust” hit home for me. Increasingly the learning that leader will do will come about by trusting subordinates, peers, partners, stakeholders and, in some cases, complete strangers. We need to build that trust and accept that an approach that requires the leader to be the decision maker, the purveyor of knowledge, is ultimately going to fail. As learning becomes not only distributed in organizations, but increasingly informal (individuals simply adopt new technology and techniques), leaders are going to have change the way they create trust. Your team will have to believe that they have your trust to explore new ideas and partners long before you weigh in. Gatekeepers to knowledge are going to disappear and leaders who figure that out now, versus later, are going to have a huge advantage with their teams and their careers. Great post.

    • Exactly – especially the transition to informal and self-directed learning. The MOOC phenomenon is only the beginning of this trend, and I see massive applicability in a whole host of different contexts. A common critique of this idea is that libraries have been free for many years and have not inspires large-scale self-directed learning. While this is true, the dynamic nature of the web makes it an unfair comparison, and I see self-directed learning as first becoming culturally accepted and then changing the education environment by breaking down hierarchies, revising traditional grade structures, and opening up opportunities for targeted and personal learning. It’s exciting to consider, and I’ve had a great time doing so throughout this class.

      • Tim, I too was struck by your insight that “leadership in the web environment is about strategic knowledge and tactical trust.” That seems to tie the vision with the operational in a nice way.

        Your comment here to Matt suggests that educational hierarchies will be breaking down. I like to think that the design of this course was a start in that direction. You and your classmates motivated each other to high quality posts with less emphasis on the traditional grade structure. This was “A” work from beginning to end across the board…but the grade became almost insignificant to the sharing of knowledge. At least, my take and observation…..

  3. Likewise, your phrase of “strategic knowledge and tactical trust” was very powerful to me. This sums up much of what I personally believe with regards to leading in this era and in complex, adaptive environments. You further identified so many other key elements leaders face today such as information overload, evolving tools and change in complex ecosystems. You also mention the need for communication, understanding connectedness and creating supportive environments. Excellent summary!

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