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Leaders spooked by online technology are headed for trouble

17 May 2012 By Chris Kotur


Pssst ... I'll let you into a secret – a new trend is underway and it's reshaping leadership everywhere. It was very much alive in the room where I was facilitating the Leadership Victoria Master Class (Leadership Online 4 May 2012) - a key part of LV's Citizen Leadership Project. I came away feeling very optimistic about changes that are challenging and influencing leaders everywhere. Now more than ever before I can see the opportunities to grow and develop community leadership. Here's why.    

Community-minded and dot-com-savvy leaders are increasing the power of citizens in every sphere of life. They lead without using traditional forms of authority. Their methods are simple, effective, cheap and almost universal. They connect people through online communications, talking to each other over the heads of hierarchical leaders and tapping into the enormous power that comes from the greatest of natural resources – people and communities.

World-wide use of mobile internet devices is growing at more than 70% each year.

Leaders spooked by this trend are headed for trouble. 

Millions of people around the world who have little faith in policy makers, traditional leadership models or political processes are simply joining forces with like-minded people who they may never actually meet. When they're online they act as  social entrepreneurs, visionaries, volunteers, entrepreneurs, designers, educators, humanitarians, thinkers, doers and fixers who can start local or world-wide movements and galvanise the efforts of people with a few short key strokes.

Think about the collaborative, online efforts to strengthen resilience in traumatized communities (see sites like Flowerdale-Survivor Spirit, Rebuilding New Orleans Together, Greensburg Kansas Green Town, Lockyer Valley volunteer army), get resources to  people in need (www.beremedy.org), harness citizen participation (rootwork.org, www.zebralog.de) and harness power to build campaigns that have grown into organisations and movements such as GetUp!, the Arab Spring, Occupy, Invisible Children - Kony 2012 and Make Poverty History.

Social media is not without its limitations, problems and ethical challenges, but it has opened up new opportunities for people everywhere, many with no official authority, to exercise leadership from within communities and offer new confidence and hope.

What does this trend mean leaders should know and be able to do?

Firstly, they will need to know how to make the most of online technology and to involve people in decisions that affect them, particularly if spending public money. They will need to get on board. Online connections should be a routine way to reach out and listen to people. Real involvement is not found in focus groups.

Participatory planning may not make reaching consensus any easier, but it will always earn respect. The next strategic plan will be more realistic if the people affected by it are involved in the planning from the start.

Secondly, leaders may well find three generations working on their boards, in leadership teams and across workplaces. Intergenerational settings will mean differing ways of understanding power and authority in an online world. There are many people still fearful of using online technology. Giving them confidence to set aside the old tools, and pick up the new ones, is necessary to ensure they can fully participate in work and life.

Thirdly, leadership often involves convincing others to work together to fix things in messy times. While technology makes communication more convenient, it won't improve a leader's ability to get a point across.  The words and how we hear them will always matter. Leaders will need to find multiple ways to communicate, involve, co-create, make decisions and change their minds.  

Social media and mobile communications are shaking up traditional leadership models. I'd be very pleased as always, to hear more about your insights on what leaders should know and be able to do as the online world unfolds, at ckotur@netspace.net.au.

Chris Kotur - Leadership Victoria's Leader In Residence