The Collapse of Leadership in a Digital World

The Collapse of Leadership in a Digital World

In a digital world where everything that can be measured is measured, do you still need strong leadership? What difference does management make when data steers the ship?

Many technology companies have the mindset that data trumps all, but are some companies suffering as a result? Look to the news to see how this is playing out:

•Zenefits’ founder Parker Conrad was thrown out for creating a culture that violated insurance laws
•Uber’s CEO resigned for multiple behavioral reasons (writing code to defy local authorities; sexual harassment allegations; staff and senior team exiting or fired)
•Volkswagen techies wrote ingenious code to defeat auto emissions testing. Smart, but illegal.
•Wells Fargo’s aggressive sales techniques forced unnecessary financial products on millions of customers
•Theranos leadership misled customers, partners, and their own board of directors

This is not about the visionary thing. The visionary nature of great leadership is strong, thanks to our wonderful culture of discovery and ability to create ever more innovative technologies. We need to talk about the vital role leaders play in setting standards and defining values that will uplift a team, a company, their customers and stakeholders and for those lucky few companies – the world at large.

An HR exec at a premier tech company put it this way: as technology enables more automation of all internal work processes, less emphasis gets put placed on leadership holding staff accountable, and providing valuable face-to-face feedback and nurturing input to advance subordinates.

Our world demands better and better products, and services that are seamless. And fast.

If we believe all advancement is product driven, does better product engineering mean that talent management and recruitment must also become a product? Does the human component of hiring get engineered out? Because for the engineer as hero, it’s just not as important.

There is danger here. We all seek connection and recognition. Stephen Covey said it best: “the deepest desire of the human spirit is for acknowledgement.” So it’s no wonder that the average millennial worker is already seeking their next job within 6 months of joining their current company.

It is hard to see this trend reversing, because as visionary Howard Tullman points out, the world is never going to go as slow in the future as it is right now. If you’re a successful world leading company in technology, what does it mean to be running the HR function? Product comes first, and to supply product teams you have to be excellent at recruitment, which in itself has become a completely data-driven pursuit thanks to Applicant Tracking Systems.

In the future all industries will be defined primarily by their technologies. When engineering takes over all aspects of running the company, does the language of HR even matter? What happens when the language of leadership and employee growth no longer exists in an AI and product driven world?

A brilliant tech entrepreneur in the HR automation field said of fellow tech company founders “they’re not people people.” In the past leadership meant personal connection. Aristotle Onassis was famous for running his multibillion dollar shipping and trading company using a phone and a notebook. Leaders need to remember: talent is a leadership issue.

About the Author

Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan is CEO of the Association of Interim Executives. He has been launching and growing companies and helping other entrepreneurs do the same for 20 years. His first company, Online Access, put him on Inc. magazine’s Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies. Online Access, the first Internet-coverage magazine in the world, ran for 10 years and after its sale Jordan took on interim CEO assignments and authored the book "How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America"