I was sitting around the table with a group of young leaders in their twenties and early thirties. We were talking about leadership, organizational change and planning for the future. I had just made a comment about coaching people to help them to become better leaders when a young man across from me remarked that my thoughts were so “old school.” He went on to explain the role of helping people through social media and other digital tools. While his point was interesting and I listened to learn more about his perspective, I have come to the conclusion, after a great deal of reflection, that there is still a lot of value in analog leadership during the digital age.
I was born in the 1950’s and raised in the 1960’s. I remember the movement from black and white TV to color TV. I remember my father waking me up in the middle of the night so I could see the first man land on the moon. I remember rotary phones becoming touch tone phones.
In the world of business, I remember the arrival of the first computers, the bag phone, and the fax machine. I remember when 28K and dial up internet was fast. I remember when flying to a meeting was an exciting adventure.
Nowadays, we all have cell phones that are smarter than the computers that took the first men to the moon. Nowadays, everything is connected to the internet. Our coffee pots are talking to our refrigerators, and our washing machines are in conversation with the hot water heater or the furnace, depending on the time of day.
However, in the midst of all the amazing things that are happening in the digital age, there is still the potential for the leader and the follower to never really connect, to never really have the bond that results in both of them creating an amazing organization. Just because we can e-mail, tweet, text, Skype, FaceTime, or Instagram does not mean that we have created meaningful relationships, a viable team, or a purpose filled organization.
Today, I am reminded of the words of Napoleon Bonaparte who said, “Never talk to your troops until you can see the whites of their eyes.” While digital tools can help, in my opinion, they do not replace some fundamental old school leadership work.
First, visit people in person. Stop using e-mail. Get out of the office. Walk, drive, or fly to where the people are doing the actual work.
Next, look them in the eye, shake their hands, and respect their daily efforts. Thank them for all they are doing for the company. Make them the focus of your day.
Third, stop talking and listen to their concerns, their hopes, their fears, and their problems. This is real time leadership. It is the old school, in person, hands on, paying attention difference that has generated significant results and created companies that were built to last rather than built to flip.
Fourth, never forget that people bond with people before they will ever commit to a plan. Role model the kind of leadership that your parents and grand parents would be proud of. Always conduct yourself with the highest level of integrity possible. Be the kind of leader that actually cares more about people than things.
Finally, don’t do these analog leadership actions just once. Do it every day. The digital work will be there. The e-mail, the internet and the social media are powerful tools. Yet don’t forget that connecting directly with people on a regular basis, connecting with their hearts, their minds, and caring about them and their family is powerful and transformative.
When all of this happens live and in-person, it makes people want to rise up to the challenges before them. It makes them want to solve complex and complicated problems. It makes people want to aspire to being better people at work and at home.
I challenge you to embrace many analog forms of leadership during this digital age. They may be old school actions, but they still make a profound and important difference in the high tech world in which we live.