Lean bloggers are not exactly the biggest fans of Jack Welch, but a couple weeks ago he penned a prescient column for Business Week discussing leadership in today’s connected world. The internet has changed, or at least enabled, several aspects of leadership.
For years now, even low-level employees have been able to reach their
leaders simply by writing an e-mail, but increasingly, employees are
organizing on company blogs, wikis, online forums, and even
social-networking sites, to give their messages urgency and heft. A
functional team—located halfway around the planet—can advocate for a
change in suppliers or warn of a competitive maneuver that no one in
charge seems to see coming.
How should leaders respond?
Leaders should welcome this development, and most do, but it’s a
mistake to treat it lightly. Once employees engage you by speaking out,
albeit electronically, they expect to hear back. We would suggest that
it can be just as damaging for a leader not to respond to feedback as
it is not to ask for it at all.
That’s not the only change. In the past leaders were lauded for a gut instinct to make the right decisions with limited data. Now they must rapidly sift through overwhelming amounts of information.
A second important change wrought by the Web concerns leaders’ critical
responsibility for seeing around corners: anticipating economic events
and market trends and adjusting for them. In the past, such foresight
came from a mixture of intelligence, experience, good advice, and as
much data as you could get your hands on. Obviously, the change lies
with the last of these, as the Net, with its bloggers, communities, and
newsletters can drown you in data about customers, competitors, and
everything else under the sun. Some data are totally useful, some total
For leaders, the challenge will be avoiding the energy sinkhole of
sorting it all out. Fresh and reliable information is always worth the
time it takes to find and analyze it, but seeing around corners will
forever involve a measure of insight conjoined with pattern
recognition, or put another way, gut instinct.
But the core facet of leadership remains the same.
Real leaders touch people. They get in their skin, filling their hearts
with inspiration, courage, and hope. They share the pain in times of
loss and are there to celebrate the wins. Sure, leaders can write
personal e-mails or "Let’s take the hill" missives on the home page.
But to rally the team, you need to see, hear, and feel the team, and
they need a regular dose of the real you.
And don’t forget that a real leader must know how to teach. Leverage the new access to information and communication, don’t hide behind it.