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Tech, tech, tech – Help or hindrance: Do digital tools get in the way of being a leader?


Who wouldn't be without their favourite trusty tech? We all rely heavily on amazing digital tools to support our work, but do they get in the way too? Are we sometimes slaves to software? The rise of AI is purported to be "Taking our jobs". I'll argue till my dying day that leading people is exclusively a human role, so how do we make sure that remains the case?

Leadership in the Digital Age: Are We Leveraging or Being Led by Technology?

The march of technology is relentless, reshaping our workplaces with each passing moment. As we eagerly embrace digital transformation, we risk becoming ensnared in its labyrinth, mistaking its utility for necessity. And leadership, the very backbone of any organisation, risks being overshadowed. Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves, in this digital age, are we truly leveraging technology or are we unknowingly being led by it?

The Double-edged Sword of Technology

Yes, technology has brought us a plethora of tools promising efficiency and productivity. With platforms like Asana, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, leaders can delegate tasks, monitor progress, and supposedly streamline communication.

Yet, as we’re all too aware, an overflowing inbox or a barrage of instant messages can cause more anxiety and confusion than clarity. Is technology really enhancing our leadership, or is it just giving us a false sense of control while breeding disconnection and inefficiency?

Take Tableau, a software company that hails its data analytics tools as enablers for leaders to monitor team performance and make informed decisions. But what happens when leaders start depending on data for every decision, big or small? Do we risk sidelining our intuition, experience, and human judgement?

When Technology Takes the Driver’s Seat

As we race to adopt the latest tools, are we forgetting that at the heart of every team are people? Relationships, trust, and shared values – these form the bedrock of high-performing teams, not your latest project management software.

Remember Zappos? The company adopted a radical organisational structure known as Holacracy, supported by GlassFrog software. Promising increased innovation and autonomy, what it led to was an impersonal system that was too complex to navigate, resulting in a whopping 18% turnover rate in 2015. A stark reminder that technology should serve us, not the other way around.

The Leadership Challenge in the Digital Maze

So, here’s the real challenge for today’s leaders – can you master technology instead of being mastered by it? Can you discern between tools that genuinely add value and those that merely add to the digital noise?

When Pfizer saw their employees struggling with digital overload, they introduced the ‘Digital Fitness App’. A clever initiative to boost digital fluency, yes, but isn’t it ironic that we’re using yet another digital tool to combat the challenges posed by… digital tools?

Redefining Leadership in the Digital Age

Looking to the future, we must acknowledge that technology will continue to permeate our work lives. For leaders, the challenge isn’t just to leverage technology to enhance team performance. It’s to champion human connection amidst the digital noise.

Our task is to foster a culture of continuous learning, ensure seamless user experiences, and above all, prioritise our people. Technology can facilitate our tasks, but it cannot emulate empathy, vision, or the ability to inspire.

Questions for Leaders:

  • Are you leading technology, or is technology leading you?
  • How are you preserving human elements of leadership amidst the digital noise?
  • Are you adding to the digital overload or judiciously selecting tools that add genuine value?
  • Leaders’ Key Takeaways:

Stuff to consider?

Do not confuse activity with productivity. Use technology to enhance, not complicate, your team’s workflow.

Embrace a culture of continuous learning to help your team navigate the digital landscape.

Remember, technology is just a tool. It’s how you use it that makes the difference.

Keep the human at the heart of your role as leader

Navigating Technology: A How-To Guide for Leaders

Audit Your Technology: Start by taking stock of the digital tools your team currently uses. Are they enhancing productivity or causing overwhelm? Remove unnecessary apps and platforms that aren’t adding real value.

Training and Support: Don’t just implement technology; provide adequate training to ensure everyone can use it effectively. Assign tech mentors within your team to offer ongoing support.

Preserve Human Connection: Schedule regular non-digital touchpoints such as face-to-face meetings or phone calls. Foster open communication, where team members can discuss challenges without digital interruption.

Prioritise Mindful Adoption: Resist the urge to chase after every shiny new tool. Adopt new technology mindfully, considering its impact on team dynamics and workload.

Balance Quantitative with Qualitative: While data can provide valuable insights, don’t ignore the power of intuition and human judgement. Balance technology usage with interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

Reclaim Your Time: Set boundaries for digital communication. Encourage ‘deep work’ blocks free from digital interruptions and consider implementing ‘no email’ days.

Create a Digital Culture: Cultivate a culture that views technology as an enabler, not a leader. Encourage a digital mindset but keep emphasis on the value of human skills.

Remember, as leaders, your primary task is to guide and inspire your team. Technology is a tool that can support this mission, but it should never supplant the human connection and intuition at the heart of effective leadership.

Want more?  I’d recommend … 

Book: “The Technology Fallacy: How People Are the Real Key to Digital Transformation” by Gerald C. Kane 

Article: “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture” by Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng 

Video: “Leading in the Digital Age” Charlene Li 

Podcast: “WorkLife with Adam Grant: A World Without Bosses” 

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