Thursday, March 2, 2017

Leading in a digital world

As discussed in previous posts, David Weinberger's 2011 book Too Big to Know describes the upheaval that has occurred with our traditional views on knowledge thanks to the internet. But of course this shift in knowledge, expertise, and even the way we think, has drastic effects in all aspects of our lives. The way work is now accomplished has similarly been revolutionized by globalization and the networking of knowledge. With all the changes in the workplace it only follows that both management and leadership styles must also adapt, which will be the subject of this post. 

Michelle Martin has a fascinating take on what leadership now means, or at least should mean, in the 21st century. She argues that leadership is making a transition from hero, those that have all the answers, towards host, acting as the focal point for "people to come together to discover solutions through meaningful conversations and structured exploration and action" (Martin, 2015). That notion is also reflected by the Firlej and Kluz who states that "[a] leader of the future is more like a community manager rather than an authoritarian" (Firlej & Kluz, 2016). It is this shift that is most interesting to me as a leader because of the implications it has for my job as a military officer.

I commented on a past post about the more traditional hierarchical nature of the military and the limits that structure has on the capability to implement some of the ideas that Martin (2016) and Firlej and Kluz (2016) discuss. However, one thing that I have learned in these past couple weeks is to not doubt how powerful these leadership ideas can be.

I recently started a new position in a new unit with many more leadership responsibilities and maybe it was due to all the research I had been conducting for these posts, but I found myself using many of the strategies concerning leadership in the new position. For example, despite being the subject matter expert, my first steps were to just observe the day to day operations. As Firlej and Kluz note "[l]eaders should know their limits and know how to acquire missing knowledge" and "must be driven by an attitude of openness" (2016). The next step I took was to organize a meeting in order to facilitate a discussion and gain consensus on the way forward. As I think back on these recent experiences I truly believe an earlier version of me would have just decided what the best plan would be, and pushed it out to my team members. 

One of the other skill sets I like to imagine I already possess and hope to continue to achieve is a constant drive to keep learning. Mikkelsen and Jarche (2015) highlighted the importance of constantly learning as a new mindset that leaders must take, stating, "leaders must get comfortable with living in a state of continually becoming, a perpetual beta mode." Due to the rapid changes in technology skills are often quickly outdated and without learning then leaders are going to be unable to fulfill a key function in the new digital age, recognizing "technological trends across different sectors, such as big data, cloud computing, automation, and robotic" (Firlej & Kluz, 2016). Additionally, it is a one of my main roles in my new position to provide the sort of continuous learning to my team members, meaning it is even more important for me to maintain my edge. 

I started this blog with a discussion on globalization, and while politically around the world there seems to be a current backlash by some fractions against globalization, the lessons concerning leadership will continue to apply. We have transitioned from the long form of knowledge to the web form and there is no going back (Weinberger, 2011). The skills leaders will need in the 21st century are quickly shifting from being the hero to being the host, taking advantage of the knowledge of the network and the expertise of everyone.


Firlej, M., & Kluz, A. (2016, May 10). How to be a leader in the digital age. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from

Martin, M. M. (2015). A deep dive into thinking about 21st century leadership.  [Weblog comment]. Retrieved from

Mikkelsen, K. & Jarche, H. (2015, October 16). The best leaders are constant learners. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren't the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York, NY: Basic Books.