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Leadership Influence in the Digital Age

Challenges and opportunities

Since the turn of the millennium, the working environment has evolved at a rapid pace. The world is smaller, thanks to the Internet. Organizations are able to reach out to customers that were previously inaccessible. Individuals work in virtual offices, collaborating with team members online. Some teams are comprised of people who have never met each other in the flesh.

Barriers to working collaboratively and hiring top talent, often remotely, have collapsed. Opportunities to collaborate and innovate have exploded.

However, this new world of work has also brought a number of leadership challenges. Offices are packed with digital distractions. Flatter hierarchical structure has blurred traditional lines of management.

In this article I look at some of these challenges, and discuss leadership influence strategies that apply in the modern working environment.

The challenge of culture and internationalism

Many of today’s managers have international experience, yet struggle when dealing with employees that have different cultural backgrounds. They find it hard to manage the challenges of putting themselves in the shoes of the other person. The cause might be the conflict of required behaviors with ingrained values and beliefs.

Adapting natural behaviors will reduce stress in challenging environments – in much the same way that care-fronting is a more productive strategy than confronting. To do this, it’s necessary to assess and diagnose the challenges faced, increase self-awareness, and move toward greater emotional intelligence. The leader who can do this will learn to appreciate diversity and benefit from different ideas and contexts.

The challenge of the modern workplace

Today’s workplaces are loaded with digital distractions. Watches that act as health monitors. Social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter. There are more than 240 billion emails sent globally every day. Nearly 5 billion text messages have to be read and answered every 24 hours. At the turn of the millennium, a work cubicle kept the outside world out. Now every worker is connected to his or her world every minute of every day – work colleagues, friends and family, acquaintance, customers, etc.

These distractions have led to a greater propensity for multi-tasking than ever before. Focus is disrupted every few minutes. Some organizations have worked with this new dynamic, actively encouraging a different way of working. Google is one that springs to mind, with employees encouraged to work differently, actively engaging with modern technologies, and located in offices resembling playgrounds. They are allowed to choose their own work routines, designing their days to work when they are most motivated.

For the majority of organizations, such change is a step too far. So what leadership influence tactics can be employed to motivate a diverse set of employees, perhaps spread around geographies, who face minute-by-minute distractions?

Online tools at the heart of leadership influence tactics

Perhaps the secret to overcome the new leadership challenge is to embrace the online tools that are currently seen as digital distractions. Leadership influence tactics can be modified to realize the potential of these tools in the leadership context. For example, these tools can build reputations, expand networks, and influence behaviors. They inform and entertain.

Consider the Ice Bucket Challenge, and how it influenced not only behaviors, but attitudes and knowledge, and you begin to understand the enormous power that leaders are able to exert in the digital world.

Using social media to build reputation

Leaders are able to connect and reach out to other experts, colleagues, and industry movers like never before. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are global networking tools. In the corporate environment, leaders contribute towards company social media projects. Despite all this, few leaders fully understand how to use digital tools to employ leadership influence strategies.

The best leaders are able to position themselves by first increasing reputation online. They utilize communication skills and emotional intelligence to connect with others and inform decision-making processes.

Leaders with foresight will encourage feedback to better inform them of approach. They solicit solutions to problems, and listen online to the hopes, concerns, and fears of their people. They gather information and connect previously disconnected cultural groups.

As online presence and network grows, the leader is better positioned to detect potential conflicts. Collaborative opportunities become apparent. Digital tools are used to disseminate information, inform, and inspire. Instead of a weekly, localized team meeting, Intranets and corporate social media channels become a 24/7 conduit to test policies, ideas, and innovations. The weight of ‘likes’ a new idea receives can be used to exert influence on senior management to alter course.

Digital age leadership influence tactics are no different to leadership influence in the traditional workplace. Only the tools to exert influence are changing.

Open and honest conversations encourage feedback. This feedback is the opportunity to learn more about yourself and others. This knowledge informs leadership influence tactics as the leader becomes affluent in the science of persuasion and the art of appealing.

Contact Forward Focus today to discuss our Leadership Programs, including our Energy Leadership Program, which helps in harnessing engagement in the new work world.

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