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6 Tech Trends That Will Rock Leadership

By Evan Sinar, Ph.D. and Jennifer Pesci-Kelly

Evan Sinar, Ph.D.

The conversations about cyberspace, cloud computing, and connectivity have heated up over the last two weeks since Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers released its influential and widely-anticipated Internet Trends Report 2016. For the last 21 years, this report has set the pace for technology in business. In its first week, it garnered over 1.5 million Slideshare views. The fact is, when lead author Mary Meeker speaks, we all sit forward and listen (as we continue to tweet).

Trends That Will Rock LeadershipDespite its deceptively narrow title, the report’s expansive applications extend far beyond the internet. These trends shape the business environment for every technology-dependent organization, along with its leaders. Though people leadership is never once referenced in the report’s 213 pages, we identified two types of consequences for leaders—first, how they must proactively reshape their roles to gain or retain a competitive advantage for their companies; and second, how organizations must pivot their leadership decision-making in response to the emerging business context. We penned this collaborative article as two socially-minded and tech-savvy leaders, summarizing six trends and their probable and transformational ripple effects on leadership.

Trends reshaping the role of a leader

These first three trends require a direct response from leaders to adopt a new set of fundamentals for defining strategic direction, managing their business units, and interacting with their employees.

1. A fading “growth mojo” for businesses

Source: 2016 KPCB Internet Trends Report , pages 38-40

Business evidence: The major forces driving technology-fueled business growth over the past two decades—increasing internet connectivity, advancing emerging markets, rising debt and falling interest rates, and labor force expansion—have stalled. Businesses will need an entirely new set of growth levers to survive and thrive.

Leader’s role: New growth drivers will require a new mix of leader skills and the willingness to learn them. Only adaptive, disruptive leaders who sever their ties to the status quo and who reformulate a new talent pool around themselves will succeed. These business-savvy leaders will restore the entrepreneurial, risk-seeking stance that sagged after the global financial crisis, showing a willingness to experiment to test new waters, and if they fail, to fail fast and then move on to their next initiative.

2. Messaging spikes as default communications tool

Source: 2016 KPCB Internet Trends Report, pages 97-110

Business evidence: Working remotely, virtual offices, and global locations necessitate additional communication tools, creating connectedness across miles when daily face time is missing. The contemporary ‘office’ looks different from the office of yesterday, turning tech tools into the surrogate for the watercooler.

Leader’s role: The good news: This dramatic escalation of a lot more messaging—and technology progression—has made it more expressive and created options for more business-related conversations (easy, fast customer service, for example). The bad news: we are faced with a workforce buried in devices of every size. And even worse, all this texting means they aren’t talking to each other. Interpreting emojis isn’t the same as reading body language. The message is that everything can’t be resolved in a text. There is an opportunity for leaders to coach their teams to go back to basics of communication and go anti-tech sometimes. Those conversations can go far toward building relationships and having meaningful conversations, but leaders have to find and connect with the opportunity to coach them to put down the devices. This means modeling technology-free interactions for your team (hint: turn off your phone and texts during your own meetings).

3. Too much data, too little trust

Source: 2016 KPCB Internet Trends Report, pages 193-211

Business evidence: Companies who see data as a modern currency and competitive advantage—and few no longer do—are adopting new technologies to gather data at a mind-boggling rate about their prospective customers, current users and increasingly, their own employees, to inform their advanced analytics models and digital strategies.

Leader’s role: Even the many companies gathering, storing, and using data responsibly fall under the shadow of the relatively few, yet extremely prominent, organizations whose data have been hacked and who are using data to punish rather than to develop their employees. Leaders must act now to credibly respond to these concerns. This requires not only the technology savvy to gather and use data appropriately, but also a trust-based relationship with those whose behaviors are being tracked. Leaders must step up to take ownership of how data are used and protected to avoid a continued slide into a state of data cynicism amongst consumers and employees. If left unchecked, leaders’ data recklessness will permanently damage the image of their companies as organizations to buy from or to work for.

Trends reshaping the leadership context

4. Generational diversity transforming commerce and brands

Source: 2016 KPCB Internet Trends Report, pages 49-52

Business evidence: The Millennial generation is now the largest living generation, and generational diversity is at an all-time high. This state of diversity, summarized adeptly in the Internet Trends report, is true not only across generations but even more so within them. Millennials bring new perspectives to their interactions with business, but to consider them a single homogenous group glosses over many important distinctions among them. Regardless of the generational label, however, the way consumers and employees engage with technology has changed from a state of assimilation and acceptance to full work and life integration, and the lofty design and usability expectations that come alongside it.

How it will redefine leader success: Of course, leaders must lead now across generations to a greater degree than ever before. More crucially, however, they must also lead WITHIN generations, seek common ground across employees, and dispute false generational stereotypes and signposts. They will excel in this by adopting a broad view of customer focus about which to gather data; and diagnose, and orient business practices toward new purchasing groups. In managing others, they will assemble their teams to take advantage of their unique strengths, fostering a productive form of knowledge-sharing amongst generational groups. With this information in hand, they’ll planfully fold in high-usability technology platforms that respond to the core needs and expectations—for learning, for informing smarter decisions, and for becoming more efficient—of the modern employee, regardless of age.

5. This generation of tech companies finally grows up

Source: 2016 KPCB Internet Trends Report, page 185

Business evidence: Technology organizations moved from infancy to maturity in a matter of years, living through the growing pains, and learning from the failings of others, to finally reach a pinnacle of growing and experienced businesses. As they turn the corner from risky start-up to an organization with brand name stability, the start-up leaders that launched their success won’t necessarily be the leaders who will guide more significant growth for these businesses.

How it will redefine leadership success: All of this opportunity leaves less room for leader error. But everything moves faster for leaders now—decisions, executions, operations, even talent movement. This isn’t the time for lone wolves. Successful leaders will operate with agility, will read the business landscape, understand consumer behavior and look over the horizon and make the necessary adjustments. The profile for success will change for these businesses as the growth curve swings upward. They’ll need leaders who can keep them growing and who can maintain stability as they do.

It’s not about blind, hit-the-accelerator speed—it has to be speed with a purpose. Leadership mobility, and building a bench that will feed the prospects of the organization, will be the ultimate measure of the leader.

6. If you can’t build, buy

Source: 2016 KPCB Internet Trends Report, pages 188-189

Business evidence: Once upon a time, there was delineation between bricks-and-mortar and internet companies, but now those lines blur as technology is the price of entry for everyone selling anything. Traditional organizations are purchasing complementary technology companies that propel them with consumers and add the right tech offerings to their portfolios. The lesson: technology investments require more than hardware—infrastructure includes talent who can create solutions that work and who speak the language.

How it will redefine leadership success: The name of the game for leaders will be TQ and it will be as critical as business acumen for leader success in these potentially burgeoning markets. These acquisitions signal a move to acquiring the start-up culture and leader agility that traditional organizations have found challenging to build from scratch. Purchasing successful tech ventures to snap into your organization like a Minecraft add-on infuses a brand of thinking that can’t be developed overnight. Now these organizations have to take a closer look at the leadership and employee culture they want to promote and what will thrive as these differing mindsets merge. Ultimately, a brand new culture has to arise, and new definitions for success across the organization have to be established if they want to become one organization.

What can we learn? Technology makes us faster as people, but can also slow us down as humans if we’re not careful. If we’ve learned anything, it is that technology is a constant, but won’t replace the need for quality communication, customer trust, and employees who love what they do when they walk through the door every day.

Evan Sinar Ph.D. and Jennifer Pesci-Kelly collaborated virtually on this article to examine six technology trends through their own early adopter lenses. Follow them at @EvanSinar and @JenniferPK1991.

Posted: 17 Jun, 2016,
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