I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately because it feels like we are at a crossroads in leadership development. On the one hand, programs and leadership professional development often focus, importantly, on self awareness, emotional intelligence, interpersonal relations, communication, and consensus-building skills. On the other hand, more and more organizational work is done online, yet online leadership skills that capitalize on the connectivity to ideas and people that the internet affords us are not being taught in concert with leadership skills that work well in face-to-face organizational settings.
A few recent reports as part of the Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2015 emphasize the need for changing the leadership development opportunities to better fit the changing world of today and the soon to come world of tomorrow. Working across cultural, generational, and gender divides, especially online, requires new ways of defining and being a leader. Indeed, the title of the report is: Leadership Outlook: Going No Where Fast.
In the Critical Leadership Skills: What’s Important is Being Ignored section of the report, the skills that are currently being ignored in leadership development are:
- Developing strong networks/partnerships
- Learning across generations
- Intercultural communications
- Integrating oneself into intercultural or foreign environments
- Fostering employee, member, volunteer creativity and innovation
- Leading across countries and cultures
Two other sections of this report informed my thinking. In Millennials: From Generational Differences to Generating Growth, start-ups and tech companies with 30% of their leaders in the millennial cohort showed aggressive growth. In contrast, companies with millennials comprising only 21% of the leadership roles showed minimal or no growth. In Gender Diversity Pays Off, data shows that the more women in leadership roles (30 – 40%), the greater the organizational profit and success. The reasons for these success statistics? Millennials “…have a stronger preference for social learning (e.g. social networks, wikis, blogs) and mobile development (e.g. smartphones or tablets) for improving leadership skills, and they tend to learn from others more frequently…they may seek out more frequent opportunities via social media and virtual platforms..”.
Women add greater diversity of thought and problem solving skills to the organization, which in turn increases success. Women who have led nationally or internationally distributed work teams advance more quickly in the organization.
These two reports show how the critical leadership skills listed above play an integral role in organizational success, and how online leadership, whether through a preference for virtual, social learning or culturally diverse online teams, is increasingly important to acquire.
I certainly don’t want to see the current emphasis on self, communication, interpersonal relations, and the other skills currently in the mainstream leadership development field go away. I cherish the face-to-face opportunities I have to work with others. However, for organizations to survive and thrive, online leadership has to be added to, and emphasized, as an equal skill to master.
Doris and I are developing our model of what online leadership looks like, so stay tuned for future blogs about that. In the meantime, here are some steps to take to incorporate online leadership into your organization or organizational life:
- Like the millennial generation, start working out loud with others through internal and external blogs, web sites, or applications such as Google Drive.
- You don’t have to know how to use every app and tool out there, but do need a social media plan that connects staff, members, and volunteers so they can engage and learn with each other.
- Look at the diversity of your organization, and foster cross-cultural virtual teams to encourage wider problem solving and innovation.
- Examine how you provide professional development for the organization, members, volunteers, yourself. Go mobile, nimble, and social. Relate PD specifically to organizational work.
- Attract new, younger members and staff through online, mobile, social learning and work groups. Have them take the lead on cross generational/cultural initiatives to develop their leadership skills as well as help guide the organization in ways of learning and working online.
- Create online networks of peers to support work as Communities of Practice, learning groups, learning bubbles. Connect project directors, volunteer coordinators, and affiliates with each other or with outside experts for help and support and to develop new leaders for the organization.
The only constant we have is change, and online leadership seems to be a change whose time has begun. What is your definition of an online leader? How does your organization promote the new basic leadership skills outlined in the Global Leadership Forecast report? Does the report mirror your experience? Tell us how!