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Leadership in the Digital Age

  • Nov 29, 2019
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Leadership as we know it today is numbered. Most companies continue to teach leadership ideas and practices to a reality that no longer exists.

Despite the modernizing statements of some executives, the real leadership model that remains at the head of a significant sample of Brazilian business leaders shows a large discrepancy between discourse and practice.

Take, for example, the concept of “supervision”, which is still widely used today in the hierarchy of organizations. The role of “supervisor” was created in the last century and is still part of the job and salary structure of most companies. The etymological origin of this word already says a lot: "super + vision", ie monitor the people under your vision. Leading people, watching them work, was very effective at a time when people worked in the same environment, whether in the office or on the so-called “shop floor”.

With advances in technology, especially digital, we no longer need to share the same physical space to work. We can do it from home (home office), in the car, subway or even from another city or country, via call or video conference, with online data transmission and distance images. For a long time now we can communicate, work and produce remotely.

In this way the traditional physical supervision has lost its meaning. Leaders and managers need other ways to monitor their teams. Controlling productivity and the art of cultivating a company's values ​​in this new, more virtual and less physical reality became a challenge. And this challenge is imposed not only in the workplace, but also at home. How to raise children in the age of mobility? How to inspire values ​​when access to all kinds of information seems unlimited?

The Digital Age has reconfigured business life. Change the nature of business with disruptive solutions that destroy traditional companies overnight. It changes the pace, which instead of incremental becomes exponential. Labor relations change through access to means of production that make face-to-face less relevant. It changes the work space, from offices to coworking. Changes the concept of results, which require scalability. It changes the way we educate and learn. It shifts philosophy from property ownership to valuing access, leading to the era of sharing. Change the way you lead!

The sense of traditional hierarchy danced. Gone are the days when a young person entering a company took years to meet or be able to talk to the president of the corporation. At least three to four hierarchical levels separated them and the attempt to bypass was considered a serious fault. Today, an intern can email or WhatsApp to the powerful boss who is five hierarchical levels up and… get an answer! Serious misconduct has become that of the manager who creates fiefdoms and prevents his followers from having access to those who need to perform their work.

Worldwide, people in some form of leadership are much more vulnerable because the ease of access to information allows for a much higher level of transparency. The consistency between what the leader says and what he does is questioned all the time. This coherence that rhymes with transparency has become a stumbling block for the legitimacy of leaders who have become accustomed to playing for the audience. What has been called the "electronic erosion of leadership" for some time now.

However, although we know that this outdated model no longer works, a new way of thinking and exercising leadership is not yet present with the necessary intensity. With the so-called “Digital Natives” entering the job market, the challenges of traditional leaders and managers only tend to increase in complexity.

For the most hasty, who have even spoken of “remote control leadership,” I end with a warning in this process of reinventing the Art of Leadership: digital transformation is not “just” technology. It involves a lot more. This movement requires a new mental model, as one of the pillars of corporate culture that will survive. After all, the more sophisticated the technology, the greater the need for human contact! The world will not only be digital, it will be physical and digital at the same time.

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