Digital Leadership

Mike Whalen

Digital Leadership Could Abraham Lincoln unite our divided country, much as he did the North and South all those years ago? I can imagine The Great Emancipator heralding “four score and seven years ago,” only to be interrupted… “Sorry Mr. President, you’re still on mute.” I like to think that people who are good leaders will always be good at leading people. That their skills and attributes transcend the era in which they lived and the platform from where they performed. Leading people in the real world certainly feels as if it should be different than leading people digitally. 

Years ago, my then-girlfriend explained the classroom tactic of Shock and Awe. “First day, first class” she said, “walk into the classroom, kick the trash can clear across the room, throw a stack of paper into the air, and loudly shout “I’m gonna teach y’all some MATH!!” My guess is that this same technique was probably lost on virtual students. Just as a manager’s call to action via Zoom might ring hollow for employees who are busy checking email on another screen. 

Quality leaders rise above single-dimensional theatrics. They can command the battlefield, a classroom, or even working-remotely in their home office. It starts with the understanding that a boss is not synonymous with a leader. Just because someone lives near the top of an organizational chart, doesn’t mean people follow (or even respect) their position or authority. Leadership is about the subtle nuances that draw you into some and repel you from others. Or is that deodorant? Nevertheless, the French call it “je ne sais quoi,” which translates to “really hard to define.” 

It’s the reason we only see a handful of books on leadership that stand the test of time, even though hundreds are published annually on the topic. For me, leaders champion empathy vs sympathy. They place their ego behind their integrity and accountability. Leaders are by nature innovators and trailblazers — early adopters of new technologies. They provide a safe path for those who follow. Leaders are above all, team players. We can achieve much more as a team than as individuals. They connect, communicate, and collaborate with those around them, regardless where they might live on the org chart. 

Effective leadership is all about strategy. Unlike the physical bosses, digital leaders can rapidly change their strategies. Basketball coach Bobby Knight motivated his players by yelling and screaming, and throwing chairs. But if your team doesn’t respond to negative outbursts, adapt! Fictional coach Ted Lasso deployed his skills of diplomacy and trust which found success with his team. The art form of leadership is not a one-size-fits all scenario.You can’t master it by reading a book, or attending a conference. It’s about adding weapons to your arsenal, and knowing which situation demands which. 

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