Edited March 2020
Most people agree that technology is critical for helping get remote work done. They also agree that good leaders communicate using every tool at their disposal to keep the team connected and the work humming along. But as we researched for The Long-Distance Leader, we saw an interesting paradox: Some of the best and most long-standing leaders are the worst adopters of new communication technologies.
Research from MIT/Sloan School of Business and others indicate that leaders (and the more Senior the title, the more this tends to be true) are some of the last to adopt a technology. They’re also more likely to use a lower-tech solution even though they know it may not be as effective. Why is that?
Here are some of the reasons why that might be happening:
- Senior leaders tend to be more…”senior.” While age doesn’t automatically equate to resistance to technology, we are at a unique time in business. Many people holding senior leadership positions entered the corporate world 30 or more years ago. This was when email was still going to be a fad, and if it wasn’t, it would cure all our communication problems. (It was a more innocent time.) When it comes to technology, there is a severe knowledge and skills gap between the last of the Baby Boomers and digital natives in the workplace. They haven’t grown up with technology such an integral part of the way they think.
- They don’t want to lose face. Most people who are leaders have earned their success, and enjoy a certain level of prestige associated with their roles. When you have to admit that you need special training on a tool, or have no idea what other people are talking about, or are afraid of just looking silly in front of your folks, it’s easy to try and avoid exposure by just not putting yourself in a position to expose your ignorance or discomfort. If your boss won’t set up a web meeting without having his or her assistant do it, this may be the reason.
- It’s worked so far. While some people believe that technology can overcome a lot of communication problems, senior leaders have learned that people skills, experience, and face to face conversation has helped them achieve their current levels of success. By applying those evergreen skills, they can still get their jobs done, even if it takes a little more work or they’re a bit less comfortable with how things are going.
- They are highly skeptical, and for good reason. Remember Betamax? It was a much better technology than VHS. Or when the future of training was laser disks and satellite hookups? Or how Goldmine was the future of sales and they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a radically new CRM that was going to change business forever? A lot of executives and managers have been caught up in fads only to see that technology become obsolete before the last check is cut. Consumer technology is now leading the way, and businesses are generally slow to follow. That might be frustrating if you have an app you think your team should use, but cut the boss some slack. She’s seen this movie (or at least a similar one) before.
None of this, of course, means that leaders should simply avoid using technology they don’t like, or makes them uncomfortable. Nor does it mean that they should expect people to just accept working inefficiently because it’s always been done that way and if it was good enough for them…
In The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership, the case is made that using the right technology for the job at hand, is more important than using the latest, fastest, or even the cheapest. Form follows function. Sometimes that means the old ways work best (pick up the phone, darn it!) and sometimes it means the boss will have to take time to learn the tools the team uses.
Nobody said this leadership thing was easy.
About The Authors:
Kevin Eikenberry is founder and Chief Potential Officer of the Kevin Eikenberry Group. He’s been named one of Inc.com’s Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World, and is the author of several books, including Remarkable Leadership.
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute and the author of many books, including ATD’s 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations.
Together, Kevin and Wayne have created the definitive guide to remote leadership, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remote Leadership.