Richard Mound, IBM: Send in the collaborators

As social networking tools change the workplace, leaders must move with the times too.

Have you issued a random edict to a Millennial on your team with no explanation, expecting him or her to fall in line like you did when you were younger?

Today's Gen Y multi-taskers will simply roll their eyes, reaffix their ear buds and skewer you on the next status update. Worse, you have lost your digital mentor.

To the Baby Boomer generation, it is confounding to think how much the world of work has changed. Texting everywhere. Flattened hierarchies. Working from home.

Many senior leaders are secretly wary of this kind of change. They are comfortable in the world in which they began their careers, where an executive's power depended on how many people reported to him, and where a top-down and confrontational style was what got him or her to the top.

Today, leaders need to influence a wider scope of people, including those who do not report to them. They may not work for the same company, or live in the same country.

And self-esteem no longer comes from how much information you hoard, or how many people report to you.

It comes from how effective your network is. The organisational hierarchy is waning, with the networked, boundaryless system rising in its place. Nothing threatens a hierarchy more than a network. Social networking tools have changed the workplace in profound ways. That means management styles must change, too.

How does a leader respond? There are already some exciting new alternatives taking shape. In today's volatile, interconnected business world, leaders must thrive on creativity and ambiguity.

Rather than relying only on themselves, or their fellow senior executives, they must learn how to influence, leverage and mobilize their extended networks to discover the wisest solutions. They must also build their own personal brand and encourage their teams to do the same.

Linking, connecting and transparency spell success. Creative leaders are democratising their firms by building digital nervous systems where employees can collaborate, compete and own their decision-making power.

This has happened at IBM, where we influence team-mates who work around the globe. Building trust is crucial. So is diplomacy.

Not everyone is good at new leadership approaches. Style is crucial and those with a 'my-way-or-the-highway' approach will meet resistance.

So will convergent thinkers - those with linear, logical approaches to problem-solving - quash those with different views. New leaders are adept at divergent thinking, admitting all points of view. They lead by listening and guiding discussions to their most efficient and effective outcomes.

One of the best ways to bring people into a 'circle of trust' is to use data in a strategic fashion. We call it 'making friends' with data. Using the insights that data analytics can yield, we can show different constituencies that share common agreement.

It also can take some of the emotion out of the situation by making it a quantitative discussion. This happens often in government projects that bring together various public and private sector groups that can realise - with the help of specifics - where they are actually unified.

This puts problems and solutions in a global, integrated context. And it allows leaders to show how actions affect everyone, not just their own teams, companies or countries.

For creative leaders, the challenge now is to spread the word about these insights. Making the world safer and smarter will demand that we all work together in new ways.

Richard Mound is a senior managing consultant at IBM.

Thought Leadership credentials

  • IBM celebrated its 100th anniversary on 16 June 2011. However, its origins date back to 1888 when IBM's forerunner, the International Time Recording Company, was created.
  • In December 2011, IBM researchers unveiled a prototype for the world's first mass-market 'racetrack' computer chip. This will have hard-drive storage capacity, electronic flash-drive durability and speed that is superior to both.
  • In China, IBM is using supply chain technology for the first time to track pork meat all the way from the farm to the supermarket.

From PRWeek’s ‘What is a Thought Leader?’ supplement

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