Five Questions for Prospective Digital Leaders

Engaged leadership in the digital era means not chasing the latest apps and gadgets. Being an engaged leader in the digital era means knowing what your goals are and what tools to use to achieve them. It also means being brave and bold enough to step into the fray: listen to followers, share yourself with them, and engage them directly in new and amazing ways. – Charlene Li 

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It’s highly unlikely an app is going to save your business. The huge problems across the social sector will not be solved by technology alone.

In our headlong rush to tech for solutions we risk ignoring the root of our problems.

People. Poor service design. Leadership.

Certainly if I look at the work of Bromford Lab over the past year I’d say 90% of the time has been spent exploring non-technology solutions. This would surprise many people who think we spend our time playing with 3D printers and drones. Why is this?

People are fascinated with technology and the possibilities it presents to transform their lives. And they are looking for salvation. The majority of our working lives are fairly humdrum – boring even. Most of us have not escaped the tedium of commuting , of meetings , of email. We dream of a day that technology will come along and make our lives better.

However, technology won’t save us.  We don’t need new websites – we need new cultures.

The breakthrough digital has given us is the opportunity to listen to our organisations and our customers in real time. Never before have we had the opportunity to share ourselves and our thoughts. We’ve never been able to work out loud before.

But – wake up call – it’s a tiny 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.

I often see comments like “isn’t it great we have so many (insert sector) leaders on Twitter?”. Let me kill that for you. That is NOT , by any measure, a way of gauging leadership. Membership of a network does not imply positive use of it.

Digital leadership is too often taken to mean “people who use digital” rather than “people who use digital to lead”.

As Li points out in her latest book, to be a true digital leader requires a metamorphosis. It requires connecting directly by listening, sharing, and engaging using digital technologies.

Only this new type of leader is going to help us move forward. And they might not be the people at the top of , or even part of , our organisations.

Five questions for prospective digital leaders

  • Do you actively listen and respond to what internal and external communities are saying?
  • Do you use digital technologies to source new ideas for your organisation or team?
  • Do you put opinions out there rather than press releases? Are you known for provoking debate?
  • Do people you’ve never met come to you for advice on the strength of your online presence?
  • Do people tell you they value the resources and information you share?

I’d suggest that if you can answer yes to three of those you would be going in the right direction.

Digital leadership is not gained through position or self proclamation. The network dicates who are its influencers.

Rather than looking for technology to solve problems the digital leader understands that this network is their greatest ally.

And that the true power lies at its centre.

7 Comments on “Five Questions for Prospective Digital Leaders

  1. I share some of the same views as this piece. Seems important that with “digital leaders”, we’re clear:

    1) Who exactly it is they (or the media) believe they are leading?
    2) Where it is that they (or the media) believe they are leading them?
    3)That those being “led” know, agree and are contented with the answers to 1) and 2) above.

    The award of the title is meaningless otherwise.

    • Really good questions Tom. And I think this goes to my point of self-proclamation in an age when what counts as ‘leadership’ is increasingly unclear.

      I wasn’t the only one to note in the run up to the election my opinions were being influenced not by politicians , but by people I trust in the network. I’d argue these emerging ‘leaders’, who wouldn’t self-identify as such, are often overlooked by mainstream media.

      We often equate leadership with positions of (corporate) authority. If I think of the people who influence me they are increasingly people outside organisations and within communities.

  2. Great piece as always Paul. ‘Digital leadership is not gained through position or self proclamation’ – spot on for me.

    It’s interesting to see how many people stick with digital leadership longer term. It seems many give it a go in the short term and then fallen away over time….not realising the longer term benefits on a personal and organisation basis of being digitally engaged.

    • Thanks Brett. I think you’re right. Social media – or digital technology in general – is not something you should “have a go at” and then fall away. We wouldn’t do that with email , or meetings – yet many do exactly what you say.

      Problem I think for many is people expect immediate results – when it takes time to build up an engaged following. Which was the point you made in your post on blogging!

      Thanks as always

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