And the answer is….its Leadership!!!

I think I hit a nerve!  Lots of responses on comments from the blog post last week so I wanted to follow up on them, there is clearly an interesting debate to be had here.

The crux of the debate seems to be around two main questions:

  1. Is it reasonable or appropriate to expect our leaders to have a minimum level of knowledge with respect to digital in the wider social as well as technical sense?
  2. If we do have this expectation does this change the type of people who we want to have in leadership positions or does it simply mean that we have to up skill to leaders (and potential leaders) we already have?

Steve Halliday has already answered this in part:

Just like in the analogue world, different people network differently. Just like they have different numeracy or literacy skills and aptitudes, they will have different digicate characteristics. Some, irrespective of age and experience will not be digital naturals. This does not make them bad persons, or even bad leaders. I have seen some wonderful leaders who, with a very small but precisely chosen and honed network of trusted people, deliver some inspirational leadership. And some absolute time wasters who seem to know everything about everyone.
So don’t be too harsh on the conservatively digicate. You will find them amongst “old” leaders and amongst youths who are turning away from social media (my kids classes are full of ‘em). The rich tapestry of a good team will require differently literate, numerate and digicate people. Some emotionally intelligent leaders will simply know how to gather the digicate around them – and some will be the digital ambassadors themselves

Digging into the detail of some of the comments there are some other issues being raised:

  1. The current disconnection between where these skills might sit in an organization (the ones John Popham refers to as being “ sparky, switched-on people”) and the current leadership creates a greater and specific risk of organizational dysfunction around this area.  This could mean we risk not only failing to exploit digital but it also causes additional organizational problems
  2. As Jonathan Flowers points out – as we rush to create digital and networked organisations with the right kind of leadership we need to make sure we are creating a way of measuring the impacts of these changes otherwise we risk missing our target.  Steve Halliday also touched on this with his comment about MyersBriggs
  3. Simon Hughes pointed out the importance of getting people ready and building organizational confidence.  This could arguably be added onto the list of leadership skills in the post.  Its not specifically digital but digital does accelerate change meaning this is perhaps of greater importance
  4. Tom Phillips made the point that these are skills that are relevant outside of work as well as within it – and I think started a whole new thread about how we use work to prepare people for their life after full time employment
  5. Both Simon and Tom made the link back to councilors and I think this is extremely important – we need democratic leadership to have these skills as well
  6. Clare and Paul both made links to other sectors which I think links directly in the points about collaboration – there is no point in talking about this stuff in isolation if the future is a collaborative one
  7. Michael Coughlin specifically developed this with respect to the community – we have to make sure that we are meshing our pace of change with that of the community we are serving
  8. A few people connects to the points about digital civic space – will pick these up in other posts!
  9. I really recommend giving Phil Jewitt’s blog that was sparked by mine as he touches on the practical approach needed to get people working in these ways

There also were a couple of questions about the term networked power.  This is a term used in sociology literature (and other places) and simply refers to power (i.e. directed effort – though this definition is a longer post) being applied via a network rather than via a hierarchy.  There are of course lots of forms of power but I am using networked power simply as a contrast to the more familiar hierarchical power.  You could perhaps use the term authority in its place as this is really a comment on an individual’s ability to direct their organization.  One of the fundamental differences between these two forms of power is that feedback is built into the networked model.  Measuring networked power is really a question we want to address in the network of networks project which I will be blogging about when not blogging about this! Lots more on this if people are interested….

so…INTERESTING!…..still lots more to discuss I think….huge thanks to everyone who has contributed!

  1. Mark Rogers

    June 9, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Q1 The answer has to be yes.
    Q2 I imagine the answer to be both – but let’s not forget that key is also the leadership pipeline, not just the existing leaders.

    And I’m keen, as someone who’s learning, that we avoid binary thinking – or, at least, implying (even if unintentionally) that the challenges are binary. The world is very often characterised by wicked issues or, if not wicked, then complex and it’s both intellectually lazy as well developmentally sub-optimal to think in either/or terms. Even thinking both/and is potentially limiting as we should admit many possibilities for the future.

    So, whilst I am really motivated to get my head around how the balance and interaction of hierarchical and networked power/authority are changing and affecting – or should be affecting – how we lead, firstly I don’t see this as a shift from one to the other; leadership has been, and I believe always will be, about blended approaches. And I imagine the future will require of us more than just an understanding of, and response to the evolving dynamic between hierarchies and networks. There’s bound to be 3rd, 4th and 5th ways that need to be understood and assimilated into the leader’s mindset and toolkit.

    What I wholeheartedly agree with is that leaders need to explore, understand and – if they are to be rounded and have longevity – deploy, singly and in combination, a broad suite of strategies and tactics that mean they have the potential to engage with all their communities/partners and all their staff and, crucially, empower them to likewise engage (by which I probably mean the full range of working together from informing to co-delivery to self-delivery in case you think I might be an”engage-only” Luddite).

    The trendy sign off is “Only Connect”. Forster’s message is still relevant nearly a century later – what keeps changing is the repertoire for doing so.

    Mark Rogers

    • curiouscatherine

      June 10, 2013 at 7:11 am

      Agree! Particularly with the fact that there will be other ideas emerging – its why I think horizon scanning and learning has to be embedded in practice.

      In terms of the Q1 we really just need to get on with doing it. Hopefully the list in the first blog post is starting point but this should be combined with making sure our leaders and aspiring leaders are aware that this is an important aspect of what they need to know.

      Q2 is as you say a moving target which will be informed by the skills in Q1 but not dominated by it. I think leadership is a really personal thing but that we can get a better match between leaders and organisations if we have a more engagement and discussion about what all this means

      Only connect indeed!

  2. vicky sargent (@vickysargent)

    June 10, 2013 at 7:06 am

    I meant to comment on your last piece about people at the top of organisations who still wear their digital/IT ignorance with pride.
    A few months ago I was interviewing the CEO equivalent of an important local government organisation and asked them about the extent to which they thought digital could resolve the current mismatch in demand for services, and resources available.
    ‘Oh, its not good asking me about digital!’ they responded. This was someone who, not being a digital native, clearly didn’t see the value either of following Steve’s solution of assembling a ‘honed network of trusted people’.
    And there was another leader at it again, on BBC R4 Broadcasting House, yesterday morning. A senior member of the medical establishment who said they ‘knew nothing about computers’ – I can’t remember the precise words – as though this was nothing for someone in their position to be ashamed of.
    There is a group of people in their 50s and 60s, particularly in public service, who are holding positions of power and influence and who seem to have decided that they can get through to retirement without taking the trouble to get out of their comfort zone. It really isn’t good enough.

    • curiouscatherine

      June 10, 2013 at 7:22 am

      Yes! These examples are exactly what I had in mind when I wrote the first piece – this bizarre snobbery is really damaging. And you (and Steve) are right – you don’t need to know it all yourself but you do need to make sure you have access to the right knowledge and you have some respect for its relevance. Really glad this has struck such a chord with people – thanks for the comment

  3. Steve Halliday (@SteveHalliday0)

    June 10, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Leadership models have come a long way. Consider the relationship to Finance. In an “old world” leadership model (maybe just a decade or two ago), it was simply unacceptable for a CEO to say, “to be honest I’m not really interested in accounting”. In any sector, not just public service.

    In 2013, I think its more common for great leaders to know their strengths and say, “I depend on my FD to manage the books. My interests are in the bigger strategic goals, the vision and the customer relationship. Its no good asking me about the finances”.

    So, here’s a digital taboo to break. It might be acceptable, then, for a CEO to say “its no good asking me about digital”.

    In the Financial case, you would hope that if you scratch the surface, they might know more about the financial health of the organisation than they are letting on. But they don’t want to be drawn into a discussion where another member of the team has better expertise.

    In the digital case, this may be a similar picture emerging.

    So, the challenge is to grow digital support and trusted advisers. In my opinion, this is unlikely to be achieved by berating leaders for not being part of the digital vanguard.

    • simonjchughes

      June 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      Steve – I dont necessarily disagree,.. 😉

      Finance, ICT, and digital are all things that can help achieve those strategic goals. I’d agree it makes no sense to berate leaders – but the emergence of digital and its impact on how organisations work and people relate to each other is increasing in pace. You always needed Finance in an organisation – its just come to the fore with CEO’s in the last two decades – thats a slower burn than digital. I guess what i’m saying is absolutely grow digital support and trusted advisers – but don’t take as long about it!


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