Nicole Hercus, Senior Consultant at Executive Central, is passionate about the technology-leadership equation. We spoke with her recently.
How does technology impact on leadership?
Technology, particularly digital technology, can be both ann enabler and a disrupter of leadership. It’s critical for leaders to gain an understanding of the beast they’re dealing with so that they can make informed and sensible decisions about how to harness digital technology as part of their leadership toolkit.
How does technology disrupt leadership?
The exponential growth in digital technology over the past few years has significantly disrupted our understanding of leadership. For example, there’s a shift to agile and remote working, made possible through technology. People used to manage and lead on the premise that they were co-located with teams and that this in fact a necessity. Now it’s accepted that teams are not only in the same building – they’re in a different time zone. This fundamental shift requires leaders to focus on their own growth and development in order to adapt to a different way of leading. Those who don’t recognize and work with the increasing complexity of business will be left behind.
A focus on leader as learner rather than leader as expert - a growth mindset - is a significant step-change. Attempting to know it all is a flawed approach, and leaders today are required to develop a more sophisticated toolkit based around emotional intelligence, in additional to technical competency.
How does technology enable leadership?
Technology is radically transforming the ways in which we work and lead. With the shift to remote working, there’s a shift of focus to outcomes driven measures of success. From the outset leaders have to work on the basis of trust. I think that any leader who works from a fear/suspicion base is going to be absolutely hindered in this environment. As leader you have to let go and focus your attention on the landscape ahead - and not be looking over your shoulder all the time. Leaders need to build trusting relationships very quickly.
For many current senior leaders, (Boomers and Gen X) their whole modus operandi is about being in the same room. However adaption to the new connectivity is vital. You have to work with it or get left behind. Millennials are digital natives: it’s not a problem for them. Most global businesses are well and truly down this track.
Do you think most leaders see themselves as ‘leader disrupted’ or 'leader as disruptor’?
I think this can turn on a dime – this is a question of ego. Leaders today who are operating from a strong position of ego will be challenged to flex in the ways required. Any leader who believes that they are immune to disruption themselves is naïve. The skill for leaders lies in the ability to hold both realities simultaneously: ride the waves of disruption and harness them for success.
It’s worth mentioning that for the first time in history, our leaders are not the people who know most about the platforms and systems that are running our businesses. In order for them to earn respect from the younger generation, they have to be able to demonstrate an understanding of this new reality, otherwise they lose authority in the eyes of their younger employees.
What is your own experience as GM?
In my own experience as GM I know how important it is to provide psychological safety for my people. If people feel unsafe, their capacity to learn is curtailed as they are instead focusing on survival. Learning is central to our success today and we must realise that inherent in learning are mistakes. This can feel counter intuitive when the stakes are high, but it is imperative that leaders remain calm so their people can focus their attention on learning growing and innovating.
Can leaders afford to ignore technology? – “I’m not a tech person” After all they would never dare say, “I’m not a finance person”!
No. To ignore technology is to apply a fixed mindset and this won’t work in today’s business world. It’s a good idea to examine the underlying fears or blocks that come up around adaptation and to work with these. This is where coaching is such a powerful intervention in the adaptation and change process for leaders today – it provides the psychological holding space for leaders to work with their own shadow emotions so these don’t play out in their decisions and leadership.
Do you think digital tech democratises the workplace and breaks down silos? Is it an enabler of healthy cultures?
Absolutely – in itself technology is neutral. It is how we apply it and understand it that assigns biases or prejudices. Technology is ALWAYS designed from the principle of generating greater efficiencies. It is our mastery of technology that determines whether we are achieving those desired outcomes or not. This is why we must persist with a growth mindset through the challenges of adaptation.
What do you think the future looks like in terms of leadership and technology?
I am not sure what the future looks like; I believe strongly that we are co-creating that future as we speak. This is why I am so passionate about supporting leaders to have the right mindset and skills to be able to navigate that road. If we are fear driven and fixed, the outcomes are likely to reflect this. If we are operating from a growth mindset and firmly oriented in our values, we will navigate that change from a position of possibility and the outcomes will reflect that. It’s time to invest in the right mindset now so the future looks bright.