Effective leadership cannot be digitized. It is an active engagement with your team focused around open communication, both relational and personal. Yet, most leaders today still believe that they communicate effectively through text and email alone, leaving these as their primary means of communication.
While most information can be digitized, and in many cases should be, relationships cannot. In fact, the most effective leaders are those who balance habits of analog and digital leadership to meet their team’s and team member’s individual needs.
Analog vs. Digital Leadership
To the modern leader, analog leadership is considered outdated, existing in a world created of command and control. Analog leaders tend to be distant from their team, sharing information only when necessary, and are slow to make decisions.
They consider failure a destination, believing that every business move must be a great success. These leaders study ideas by respected experts before scraping many of them to the side. As described by Bill Fischer, Professor of Innovation Management at IMD, analog leadership tends to be found in the legacy companies, those unwilling or incapable of letting go of the way things have always been done.
Contrastingly, digital leadership is considered cold and remote, primarily consisting of curt communication. Digital leaders trust that their teams will get done what needs to get done and share information with their team as soon as it becomes available.
Focusing on customers, rather than products, they believe failures are part of the learning process and help better serve customer needs. Digital leaders also seek to disrupt the status quo, believing new ideas can come from any direction.
And while these descriptions are accurate in many cases, they do not tell the whole story.
Leadership Is Personal
Defined by D. Kevin Berchelmann, CEO and Founder of Triangle Performance, “Leadership, in its most successful, meaningful form, is not about size, scope, or reach. It’s about relationships.” True leaders understand that to do their job well, they must nurture mutually-beneficial relationships built on respect and empathy.
Although leaders need to utilize technology to share information efficiently and focus employees around the same goal, they continue to communicate and build meaningful relationships in an analog fashion. Berchelmann points out that effective leaders “use the digital medium—in all its forms, including social media and even text messaging—to expand their reach and provide information in real-time.” But regardless of how technology evolves, they always maintain analog relationships.
This becomes more complicated when team members work remote. Although these employees can pivot and make quick decisions based on the available information, they are also more likely to act independently of leadership.
Technology expedites results and helps us access new opportunities, but John Maeda, design evangelist and provocateur, reminds us that it also dehumanizes our team, separating us and creating distance. Leaders who strike a balance between digital convenience and analog relationships promote their team’s success regardless of the circumstances.
4 Analog Habits Leaders Need in A Digital Age
Host In-person Meetings
Meeting with team members for any reason provides an opportunity to observe crucial aspects of communication unavailable through email or text, including the tone in their voice and shifts in their body language. For remote workers, Scott Mabry, blogger behind 5 Beautiful Benefits of Analog Leadership, recommends leveraging video conferences to overcome the physical distance.
Part of the success of in-person meetings is that they lead to higher productivity rates from both leaders and employees. Where an employee might text, email, or scroll through social media when they take a call from home, they are unlikely to do the same during an in-person meeting with their supervisor present, enabling creativity and fostering relationships.
Listen To Visual Communication
One in three employees leave their workplace for a more compassionate work environment. Allow space to clarify their intent by providing a real-time opportunity to ask questions and discuss the work. In general, employees are more willing to empathize with leadership when they are told information in-person compared to reading the same information in an email.
When providing feedback, performance reviews especially should never be communicated over email so that you can monitor the recipient’s reaction and clarify any misunderstandings. With in-person feedback, you empower your employees to feel heard and are more likely to build grounds for the relationship to continue growing.
Emails invite the recipient to interpret the purpose of the information and provide false confidence in a hasty, and at times, inappropriate response. Especially in regards to mass emails, employees will often derive their own interpretations and then discuss these conclusions among their peers, leading employees to form false reputations for their leadership.
Share Individual Experiences
To really be productive, your team members must be invested in one another. When individuals feel unappreciated, they underperform and seek out other opportunities, making it crucial that even teams with a digital mindset nurture analog relationships.
When we work alongside our team, we develop empathy for our employees by learning about their perceptions and experiences. Although these stories might aim to pass the time, stories help humanize leadership and the employees by removing the “us versus them” mentality.
Express Your Appreciation
According to Seth Godin, best-selling author of Tribes, leaders engage with their team simply because they are good employees and want to see them thrive. By interacting with your people, you add substance to your relationships and give your team a shared purpose. This purpose drives your team to work harder toward your goals and make a broader impact.
While you can share information digitally, active engagement with your team is still an analog habit. Giving your time to your team demonstrates to your people that you appreciate them and their contributions.
Analog leadership is not better or worse than digital leadership. Leadership today demands a hybrid of analog and digital. We need to preserve our humanity while keeping up with the pace of our innovations. But while we can share information quickly and make it understandable, we need to hold conversations about the value of the information and how our teams will use it.
The most effective leaders utilize all available methods of communication to stay connected with their teams. At times a conversation or the distance may feel uncomfortable, but the leaders who build a relationship with each employee despite the challenges are the ones who succeed.