August 27, 2019

How to be a leader in the digital age

by Wendy Ryan in Leadership

Old school, good-ole-boys management is out; leading in the digital age is in. But for many leaders, from Baby Boomers who are aging out of the workforce to Generation Z who are just getting started, there’s confusion about what that means.

A lot of coaches recommend executives develop their leadership brand by posting regularly to social media, writing articles consistently and talking often to the media. That’s often not the most realistic nor effective strategy for many C-Suite executives and those aspiring to climb the corporate ladder.

What this unique group of thought leaders and industry influencers needs is actionable advice that will help them grow in their organization (and possibly beyond it) and become better leaders overall.

It’s all about being the best you can be in your current role and looking ahead in the next stage of your career–before you really need to think about it. The more you set yourself up for success now, the more successful you’ll be in the future.

Create your personal brand

No matter what your career goals are, creating a personal brand gets you visible online so you’re there when recruiters are ready for you. That doesn’t mean you’re creating a large-scale presence or publishing on social media on a daily basis. Instead, try doing the following:

Create a quality LinkedIn profile that spotlights your current and former positions. Include a professional photo, an about section that speaks to your experience and an eye-catching summary and title.
Connect with other thought leaders in your industry on LinkedIn and interact with them regularly. This could mean commenting on others’ posts once a week or sending them a private message to start a conversation.

Attend events and networking opportunities that allow you to interact with others in your industry. You’re probably already attending these events in your current role; go into them with a different frame of mind: To make more personal connections.

Use email as an opportunity

Email is a huge area of opportunity for leadership potential for executives, especially given that it’s such a poorly used piece of technology. You’ve seen the jokes about “the meeting that could have been an email.” But that doesn’t mean that emails should be tomes, detailing every piece of information and background that you feel others need to know. Instead, look at email as a time-saver:

Train yourself to use email requests as a digestible way to relay information. If you’re incredibly detail-oriented, know that your colleague or boss may not be. When you try to give too much background information in a request, you’ll lose your reader halfway through and they won’t even get to what you want from them.

Stop using email as a way to problem solve and just have the meeting. A few minutes of conversation at the water cooler can resolve what multiple back-and-forth emails cannot. If there’s a problem, it usually warrants human interaction and conversation.

Avoid black and white thinking

You know what I mean. It never serves us well to be closed to others’ ideas or even to a possible outcome. People aren’t straightforward; we’re complicated. Unlike machines, inputs don’t always produce predictable outputs in human interactions. So when dealing with humans, as we do at work, it’s important to have an open mind and really listen to others’ ideas.

  • Be open to feedback. If you’re committed to being a good leader, you’re going to want to ask colleagues, employees and superiors for feedback. Be open to receiving it, without recourse on the messenger, and to doing something about it. Sometimes your behavior may come off differently than you think and you’ll want to adjust to ensure everyone feels safe and valued.
  • Communicate how you’re communicating. Check in with others about how you’re communicating and make sure it’s working for them. Ask if they prefer to receive communication in another way from you–say, an instant message instead of an email or phone call. Meet your audience where they’re at as much as possible.
  • Check the ego at the door. Egos can get you into trouble and they make it difficult to not take things personally. It’s important to recognize how much of the information we receive is about the other person and not about us. If you feel attacked by someone, know that something triggered on their end; it’s not always about you.

At the end of the day, good leadership is good leadership no matter where or when it’s happening. It’s about being open-minded, recognizing that others communicate differently from you and having an online networking avenue that will help you grow as a business leader both inside and outside your current organization.

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