By Kevin Meyer
A recent article in The Economist by Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz describes how one aspect of leadership has changed in the information age.
Information will be the greatest opportunity for business leaders in the coming years—and perhaps our biggest headache. Since the dawn of the internet, all of us in business have been
swept up by the Niagara of information that fills our daily life.
So how does that create a challenge for leaders? First, our employees are different.
Today, new employees arrive on their first day with an alarming amount
of know-it-all. They have already read about you, and the online
critiques of your plans, strategies and management style. The bloggers
and the tweeters—all receiving steady streams of in-house
gossip—analyse, assess and ridicule every business moment. At some
companies, insider information can barely be said to exist.
Second, the ability to create, communicate, and drive a vision becomes critical.
The online era has made command-and-control management as dead as dial-up internet. That’s why the greatest mandate for leadership in business is the
ability to cut through the information clutter and make clear decisions
without apology. More than at any time, employees need—in fact,
desperately want—unequivocal direction.
They want someone to tell them what it all means. These are wonderful
opportunities for leadership. Employees, investors, customers and
business partners are heartened by executives who can sift through the
avalanche of opinion and clearly communicate what matters—and what
doesn’t—to the enterprise.
Third, leaders must be able to deal with, if not take advantage of, global information channels.
Although decision-making has always been the task of a leader, it has
become harder. The online world has guaranteed that every remark about
your business and every change you implement will trigger a viral
frenzy of second-guessing. Borrowing from the black bag of politics,
your competitors will also be spreading their own version of
“opposition research”, feeding the blogosphere with critiques of your
And finally, information changes the employee development process.
In the past, seeking out “high potential” employees typically meant
looking for those who could climb the next rung of the management
ladder. That remains important. But equally pressing is finding those
employees who, though perhaps not the best managers, have the ability
to digest and interpret information for others. Grooming these in-house
ideas people helps foster a culture of openness to fresh thinking—the
greatest energy an organisation can have.
I might add a fifth attribute of an information leader: the ability to balance life and turn off the flow of information. How many of you are secure enough, or have enough trust in your team, to turn off your Blackberry. Come on… you can do it!