3 Technologies That Are Damaging Your Leadership

Mar 12, 2013

A version of this article first appeared at Inc.com.

I’m far from a luddite. In fact, I’m an easily-swayed early adopter. I love technology, and couldn’t do what I do without it. Used wisely, technology provides a vast array of great tools for leaders, enhancing their communications and ability to think and lead creatively.

Used unthinkingly, however, technology can have the opposite effect – deadening a leader’s ability to be effective, and curtailing the impact of otherwise great leaders.

Here are the three most egregious examples I see daily of technology being used wrongly, or unthinkingly – ‘just because we can’:

1. Tool: Web video Problem: Loss of focus and clarity

No, this is not about watching videos of LOLCats or dancing puppies on YouTube, distracting as that may be. I’m talking about the use of video chat (Skype or Google hangouts, for example) as a leadership tool.

Web video is a technology which seems perfect for increasing your leadership reach – what’s better than being able to interact face to face with people without needing to leave your desk? – but which actually dilutes your leadership impact.

How so? Well, apart from new relationships, where you haven’t yet got to know the other person well, once you have established an audio link, video is nothing more than an unnecessary additional stimulus that detracts from high-quality, focussed interaction.

I’ve proved this repeatedly in hundreds of ‘virtual’ interactions over many years, since the inception of video chat: A voice-only call between people who know each other well almost always yields higher-quality, more focussed, more actionable outputs, and in a shorter time. Video adds little except an unneeded, additional sensory distraction. (I’m excluding the use of screen-sharing and document sharing, which of course can be incredibly helpful.)

Don’t believe me? Try turning off the video in your next few web conferences and see if it has a positive impact on the outputs. I’m betting it will.

2. Tool: Mobile alerts Problem: Short-termism

Ping: You have a new voicemail. Throb-throb: You have a new text. Oh look – a shiny red circle: You have 7 new emails.

So what? Unless you’re holding the nuclear football or overseeing a fiscal meltdown, you almost certainly don’t need to know about any of these – at least, not right now.

The problem about setting up real-time alerts on your mobile device is that you’re essentially giving everyone who knows you unlimited power to attract your attention any time they want. And that’s precisely what they do, all day, every day. And you respond, all day, every day.

The net result? Dealing incessantly with granular issues, responding to everything in the short term, constantly interrupted, you become a manager rather than a leader.

Next thing you know, you’re in thrall to the pings, throbs and buzzes. Every one you receive sends a little burst of dopamine through your system. You find yourself checking your mobile device if something hasn’t come through for oh…the last two minutes or so. Now you’re not even a manager any more – instead, your mobile device is managing you.

3. Tool: Cloud sync Problem: The banishment of ‘A-ha!’

Time was, if you wanted to do some work at home, you packed an over-stuffed briefcase with every file and report you thought you’d need, and hoped that when you got around to opening it that you hadn’t left that one essential file languishing on your desk back at work.

Nowadays, with cloud sync, a leader in even the smallest business has always-on availability to every file, every document – anywhere. On the beach, at the airport, during your kid’s recital, any document you need is just a few keystrokes away.

And precisely because it’s just a few keystrokes away, where does your mind – and all your associated creativity – go to when you have a spare minute? Right to those files and folders you grapple with when you’re back at your desk.

Want to strangle your creativity? Longing to think in a rut? Enable cloud sync so you can jump on those files when you have a free minute. Alternatively, how about switching it off – or even better, carrying a non-synced device – when you’re heading in to some free time?

Who knows, you might actually have a breakthrough ‘A-ha’ moment if you force your brain out of the cloud sync rut.