The face of business has changed. Technology has taken over or enhanced traditional ways of communication such as face-to-face interaction and mail. It isn’t necessary to wait 7 business days to hear a reply from a customer anymore. In fact, it could take less than 7 minutes through the use of a phone, email, or fax. The Board of Trustees can have a video conference when they are 6,000 miles apart from each other. However, with the benefits of technology, has fundamentals such as leadership been overlooked? Leadership used to focus around personal interaction when meetings would be held in a conference room and tasks would be accomplished by people standing side by side to each other.
Leadership is a necessary component to the success of any business or organization. Leadership says, “I care about you” to the customer. Used correctly, technology can enhance the practice of leadership in today’s businesses and organizations. It is necessary, though, that some personal interaction remain to show people that the business is still customer oriented.
Leadership can be divided into three categories: mentoring, risk-taking, and facilitating. Although there are many attributes and characteristics of a leader, these three are the most important in today’s business and organizations. Most other skills of a leader would fall under these three categories. For example, being trustworthy and loyal would fit under the mentoring aspect. Risk-taking would include courage. Being team-motivated and having the ability to make decisions would fall under facilitating. Technology can be applied to each of these categories to enhance the business or organization’s success. No business is complete without leadership and today, leadership is not complete without technology.
What is a mentor? In Homer’s Odyssey, Mentor was the teacher of Telemachus, the son of Odyssius. But Mentor was more than a teacher. He was half-god and half-man; half-male and half-female; believable and yet unreachable. Mentor was the union of both goal and path, wisdom personified. In today’s society, the same principles apply. Mentors teach and guide others. They inspire and convey a sense of vision to the people around them. Proverbs 29:18 reads that where there is no vision, the people perish. Effective leaders do not allow this to happen. They keep the team energized until the vision is no longer a dream, but a reality. Leaders walk the talk; and this creates the trust and respect necessary to achieve the team’s purpose. Leaders are mentors.
Those who oppose the connection between technology and leadership would argue that this is where it is most difficult to integrate. In order to lead, a person must lead by example. How can someone teach others proper etiquette, effective verbal communication, and inspire their team players if they can’t physically show the team players the necessary means to do so? It is impossible to integrate technology and the mentoring aspect of leadership so that they work together towards the goal of the company or organization.
Those people bring up a good point. However, if you can’t use technology and the mentoring aspect of leadership directly, then use technology indirectly to influence leadership. For example, the President of a large environmental organization finds that some of her team players do not effectively communicate with people outside the organization. She has had many complaints from outside the organization that many of her volunteers are pushy, rude, and indignant. So, she sends an email to the operations managers at all the locations across the U.S. explaining the current situation. In the email, she politely addresses the situation and offers a solution to the problem:
It has come to my attention that many of our volunteers are lacking the necessary means of communication to effectively recruit new members to our organization and persuade businesses to become environmentally friendly. Due to the nature of our business, it is extremely important and valuable to the success or our organizationthat we communicate to potential volunteers and environmentally-conscious businesses with respect. I have had several complaints regarding the etiquette of some of our volunteers and have come to the conclusionthat immediate action is implemented to prevent future mishaps. I am electronically transferring $1500 to each of your bank accounts. With these funds, please schedule a proper etiquette seminar for your employees. The seminar should include proper communication techniques and phone etiquette on the agenda. You may use the Internet to find seminars or people who conduct these types of seminars nearyour location. Thank you for your time and continued work throughout the year. Please find an attachment to this email. It is an evaluation sheet. In one month, please have these sheets emailed or faxed back to me concerning the results of our present efforts to clear this matter.
Then, she electronically transfers funds from the company’s main Internet banking account into each of the locations’ accounts. With that, the President resolved the problem and now their organization is growing faster than ever! Technology wasn’t used directly, but indirectly in that it was used to solve the problem.
That doesn’t mean however, that technology can’t be used directly with the mentoring aspect of leadership. In the example above, notice that the President was polite with the managers in her email. She didn’t “scream” in the email, or use vulgar language, nor did she attempt to place blame and offend the managers. Instead, her goal was to simply resolve the problem.
While there was no face-to-face interaction with the office managers or volunteers, her polite manner was “leading by example”. Clifford Mynatt, psychologist and author of the book, “Undersanding Human Behavior,” comments that leading by example is important. For instance, a mother continually tells her son to say “please” and “thank you” when someone does something nice for him. However, the mother never says “please” and “thank you” in front of the child. Therefore, the child will never learn the proper manners that his mother wanted to instill in him. Pamela lead by example which will go a long way and eventually, will have a positive effect on the company’s image to outsiders of the organization. The success of a business or organization is dependant on leadership, and in this example, technology was integrated to ensure effective leadership.
Also in the example, notice the format of the grammar. When dealing with email, there is a proper way to communicate. Using all capital letters, for example, would imply anger or rage (Web Server). Pamela’s letter was in traditional business letter format. Using profanity or insulting others is also discouraged (Web Server). Even though using profanity or insulting others is unacceptable in face-to-face interaction with business associates, many people see it as no problem whatsoever. In surveying college students, 94% say that they have used profanity or have insulted someone through email. Many of the reasons corresponding to their actions were that it was much easier to insult someone online than when that same person is standing in front of them. Clearly, mentors do not hold this same principle and orderly conduct on the Internet is just as necessary as it is for personal interaction. Following the above-named guidelines when writing email or using other forms of grammar-based technology will aid in the mentoring aspect of leadership.
Risk-taking is the second category for leadership. The risk-taking aspect is probably most important when dealing with businesses or organizations because taking risks at some point or another is necessary to the company’s success.
Risk-takers challenge the process, always seeking new ways to cultivate and develop new ideas. Debra Sarget, a homemaker, comments, “if you continue to do what you’ve always done, then you’ll coninue to get what you’ve always got.” In other words, what you think about, you bring about. Therefore, leaders do not dwell on their faults. Instead, they find ways to correct their mistakes, taking the team to a new level of achievement. From the words of just an ordinary person, Jack Mullins, “Some of us are more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions.” Therefore, leaders understand that risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. They realize that if they cling to the familiar and safe, the certanties in life, they become a prisoner relinquishing freedom. According to author, Roger Van Oech, “Most of us need to strengthen our risk muscle and find out just how good we can be.” Leaders are risk-takers.
Indeed, maybe the most important aspect in life is to risk! But how does the notion of risk-taking and the use of technology have to do with each other in businesses and organizations? As with mentoring, if it can’t be done directly, then indirectly combine the two.
At first, it may seem that there is no connection between risk-taking and the use of technology. However, technology can be used as a means to take the risk. For example, a wholesale distributing company finds that they are losing profit money due to the increase of prices by the manufacturers in whom they purchase products. They use email to inform their employees of the current situation. They also ask the employees for their input concerning possible solutions of the problem. Many of the employees fear that their job might be terminated due to down-sizing, but nevertheless, agree to help. Based on the employee input, the company decides to do three things. The first is to raise the prices on products that cost more for their company. Second, they decide to purchase products from competitors that cost less.
Third, rather than hire new employees to recruit these new clients, they select 15 loyal and hard-working employees and train them for the new jobs and hire. To train the new 15 employees, the company decides to use a combination of video and computer software programs to educate them on communication necessities, details of the job, and computer competencies since most of the 15 employees are skilled laborers. Their new plan worked and because of the risks, 25 new people were hired, 15 to fill the old positions and 10 more to keep up with all of the new work. Notice the word “risks” was used. There was more than one risk involved in this plan and technology played an important part. The first risk was to raise the prices. This was due to the employees’ suggestions via email. The second was to choose training current employees for the new positions rather than hiring new ones. The third was to train the employees by use of video and software programs. Technology played an important part in the success of the operation.
Of course, just like mentoring, it is possible to use technology directly with the risk-taking aspect of leadership. For example, a new floral company can’t decide on a logo for its company. They are looking for something recognizable, yet distinguished from its competitors. To solve the problem, the company sets up an Internet site and invites people via email by random sample to answer a few questions and to comment on possible logos for the company. The sample is a success and based on potential customer reviews, they have not only chosen the right logo, but received input from the surveys concerning types of floral arrangements and prices for the flowers. Their floral company is now a recognized name in quality flowers and friendly service.
Using the Internet site, the company was able to make a calculated risk concerning the logo and what type of products the company would offer. Creativity is the key to using technology and the risk-taking aspect of leadership. There are endless possibilities as long as the person is open to new ideas, which ironically, is the ongoing idea of technology.
Also, consider that using technology is a risk in itself. No one is sure that purchasing technological devices such as electronic organizers, computers, software, email systems, or video conferencing equipment will be useful for the business. Many times, technology fails humans. It breaks, flounders, communicates incorrectly, and/or people lose things in the computer “black hole.” Because technology is advancing at such a fast rate, deciding which technological devices are right for a company can be mind boggling. But, if, for example, an entrepreneur just starting his company, finds that some of the technology purchased is unnecessary, then he will learn from the mistake and make sure to choose more carefully next time. There is a necessary risk in using technology and taking that risk is an example of leadership.
Last is the facilitating aspect of leadership. It is important to be team oriented in today’s businesses and organizations. According to Mari Ippolito, people like to feel important and that their opinions matter and become more inclined to work when they do. The use of facilitation allows employees, volunteers, or member of a company and/or organization to give their input in potential projects and work toward the common goal of the company or organization.
Facilitators are strong team players. They understand the importance of an effective team and know how to inspire and motivate the team players. They do this by listening to the people, providing support for their efforts, and then facilitate their involvement in problem-solving and decision-making. After all, the role of a leader is not to challenge the people, but to get them to challenge themselves. Facilitators believe as Henry Ford did. “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. But working together is success.” Leaders are facilitators.
The use of technology can have a phenomenal affect on the facilitating aspect of leadership. Using email, videoconferencing, and other forms of technological communication can be both a time and money saver (yahooshopping.com). For example, the Board of Trustees for a large banking corporation has an annual conference to discuss new ideas and current business for the company. Because each of them live in a different state, they usually fly to a central state, rent a hall at a convention center and conduct the conference in a rented room. There are 20 members on the Board of Trustees. They plan to have the conference in Kansas City, Montana. The company pays for all of the expenses. Consider the following expenses (estimated and specific costs provided by airlinetickets.com).
Airfare: (round trip) American West Airlines Coach
@$350 X 20$ 7000.00
Hotel: (3 days) Hyatt Regency Crown Center ($89 X 20)$ 1780.00
Room Reservation: (2 days) $500 day X 3$ 1500.00
Car Rental: (3 days) Hertz Rent-A-Car 54.99 day
$54.99 X 3 X 20$ 3299.40
Food Expenses (3 days) Various Restaurants
@$30 X 3 X 20$ 1800.00
Even though the company may have the funds for such a conference, imagine how much money and time they would save if they set a period of time over the course of 3 days and held the conference via videoconference. The introductory rate for video conferencing equipment is $3495.00 for one person which would add up to $69,900 for all 20 of the members on the Board of Trustees. Even though it may seem as though having an actual conference would be the sensible route to take, the conferencing equipment would pay for itself after 5 years of using it. Plus, if necessary, the equipment could be used at any time. No one would have to worry about any of the time devoted to finding prices, booking airline tickets, and so on. With the click of a button, you are talking face-to-face with the whole board.
However, many would argue that using this type of conferencing rather than personal interaction would be difficult. Trying to maintain order during the discussion would be impossible. Meetings rely on parliamentary procedure to conduct business and it would be difficult to implement parliamentary procedure during a videoconference.
This notion is incorrect, however. Although it may be difficult in the beginning, practice makes perfect. The chair, as well as the rest of the members would simply devise a plan in which members can be recognized. For example, a person could call their own name when they wish to speak, or the chair could simply go down the list of names and ask them for any input or ideas. It is completely at the organization’s disposal. Again, finding solutions that work is the key to using technology successfully when dealing with the subject of leadership.
In the past, technology has simply been used as a way to communicate quickly and at a minimal cost. No consideration was given to the necessary means of communicating effectively using the three aspects of leadership. There are many different ways that people can use technology and integrate it with leadership. It simply requires creativity and the willingness to take a different stance on current uses for technology. The above-named examples were simply taken from a conservative effort. Imagine the possibilities of a group of people who put their heads together and explore the different ways technology can be used to enhance leadership.
The three aspects of leadership, mentoring, risk-taking, and facilitating are fundamental ideas. Technology is a continual new idea. Instead of “out with the old, in with the new,” technology and leadership can form a partnership that enhances a company’s or organization’s success. Email, Internet, phones, videoconferencing, and other technological devices can aid in the leadership aspect of businesses. Today, almost every company has integrated some form of technology into their business. However, leadership is scarce in businesses and organizations worldwide. In today’s society, however, one can’t live without the other.
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