Leadership In A Digital Age: Moving Beyond Rhetoric

Not using social media to connect, contribute, and collaborate is like sitting in a closed office all day — Harold Jarche

The breakthrough that digital technology has given us is the opportunity to listen to our peers , our organisations and our users in real time. Never before have we had the opportunity to share our learning , our successes and failures with such transparency.

In reality though — it’s a very small percentage of leaders who are really living a digital lifestyle. There are still relatively few having open debates , showing transparency in public discourse , answering questions online and sharing progress.

Digital leadership is too often taken to mean “people who use digital tools” rather than people who are influencing agendas , opening new debates and solving problems.

Equipping senior leaders with a Twitter account and the occasional blog is no longer a badge of honour. Being accountable (responding to questions & engaging) — the hallmarks of great leadership offline — must become the norm in the digital space.

One of our favourite posts on this subject came from Mike Clark — who suggested some likely characteristics of digital leaders.

You don’t have to be a techie. Digital leaders do not have to be tech experts but need to understand how to exploit it to make connections and achieve good outcomes that make a difference

You don’t need an organisation. Digital leaders don’t always have organisations, budgets or staff — they don’t need structure charts — they may have more connections and followers outside of their own organisations

You listen more to people with opposing views. Digital leaders seek out people with different views and perspectives to understand how barriers can be overcome — they have wide reach, they question and challenge, summarise and synthesise, simplify and de-clutter when necessary

Inspire in 140 characters & trust your staff. If as a leader you are not able to summarise your vision in simple terms in 140 characters, someone else on social media will probably be the inspiration for your staff. Sadly, staff are often forced to leave their digital skills at the office door — digital leaders help nurture and develop those skills

Be courageous It takes courageous leaders to allow their own hierarchies to be disrupted — digital leaders can build external followers before looking at how they can develop & engage their own organisations. Digital leadership is not the role of the Comms Team

Review and dismantle barriers Digital leaders review and dismantle traditional infrastructures that act as barriers to innovation or which do not add value — they support and champion people that are close to service users and customers — they help people unlearn bad habits & some non-digital skills that impede progress

Mike’s list reminds us that in the digital age anyone can be a ‘leader’ — but too often digital leadership is being equated with seniority or role. Indeed , it seems a new industry is emerging in digital leadership training courses and seminars.

Is this style of leadership truly something people can demonstrate by doing a course rather than through evidence based behaviours?

Digital is now not just part of the economy — it is the economy. Rather than it being the responsibility of an elite few surely anyone in a publicly funded role must be digitally literate?

All organisations should have a programme for how they are addressing digital skills gaps — at all levels of the business including front line staff and Executive Boards

Harold Jarche talks about sense-making with social media — how social relations online are like glue that connects us in our increasingly distributed work. We’d suggest that leadership in the digital age is partly a question about how we make sense of our work and generously share our knowledge.

Social provocations

Perhaps leadership in the digital age is less a set of skills and more a set of behaviours.

Ultimately we must explore who decides what these behaviours are — and we’ll be looking at that question in a future post.

We’ll also be asking you to help assemble the criteria for the 2016 Digital Power Players list — this time moving beyond the confines of social housing.

Are we ready to move beyond the rhetoric of digital leadership?