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How to Lead Without Your Phone
Loss Leader #16: The desire for connection, politicians who ghost and getting wood for space
A couple of years ago, I was asked to give a talk on the topic of Humanity and Technology for The Walrus Talks. I chose to use on line dating as a proxy to discuss the ways our interactions with each other have changed over the years under the influence of our new tools. This week, I released it in book form, How to Get Laid Without Your Phone, available now on Shopify.
Fundamentally, the book is about relationships - the relationships we have with each other, and how they are shaped by our relationship with tech. But the book could just as easily been called How to Work Without Your Phone. Leadership is, at its core, about relationships, and to continue to manage them effectively today we need to understand how our own skills and those of our team and customers have been sharpened or dulled by reliance on tech. With the majority of the workforce now weaned on digital interactions, it’s more important than ever to think about how this has shaped them, and what they need in response.
According to the newsletter Next Big Thing, the craving for more human connection will be a foundational factor in 2021.
People may want connection, but they’re not getting it right. Screen time increased dramatically last year - with 44% of people under the age of 18 now reporting four hours or more of screen time per day – up from 21% prior to the pandemic.
There is no way that’s not affecting us. And it will affect our professional abilities, and not just our inter-personal ones.
Numerous studies have tracked the impact of technological dependence on our personalities as well as the ongoing positive benefits of face to face interactions. Positive empathic social skills have been demonstrated to decline with increased Facebook usage (Chan, 2014) but according to Harvard research, face-to-face requests were 34 times more likely to garner positive responses than emails. In a recent survey, 67% of senior executives and managers said their organization’s productivity would increase if superiors communicated face-to-face more often.
As a leader, I noticed that my own employees increasingly demonstrated:
A discomfort with face-to-face interactions and over-reliance on electronic communication, even when it undermined outcomes.
The inability to problem solve, adequately research or contend with conflict.
According to the World Economic Forum, the top requirements in a world of increased automation will be just those skills that seem increasingly lacking: Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Creativity, People Management, and Coordination with Others.
Maintaining and cultivating these skills is a complex responsibility for leaders, and cannot be reduced to a simple policy or point of view. We need to understand that technology is undoubtedly an important tool in the workplace, but humans still need and benefit from human interaction. Knowing when to prioritize face-to-face interaction, drawing yourself and your team away from their screens, will be key to maintaining the innovation and employee health that underlies any successful organization.
Dereliction of Duty
Leaders are allowed to take time off. But senior politicians going on tropical vacations while the Covid pandemic ravages their communities is not just wrong on the level of hypocrisy and optics, it’s an abject failure of character. You are in charge. You are responsible. Your work is not done. If you don’t understand that presence is essential when leading through crisis, you’re not a leader.
But let’s not let those who stayed home off the hook either. The elderly continue to die in long-term care facilities while vaccines sit in cold storage, un-deployed. We should never look at those in charge the same again.
Sometimes people show us how to do it without any technology at all
Wooden satellites are being developed to burn upon reentry.
Asking questions acknowledged as a hugely underdeveloped skill:
Becky Hammon coaches an NBA game “because she’s wonderful at what she does.”
And, to end on a bright note, it seems that last year may have at least caused our threshold for happiness to be reset. “I think a potential upside of the pandemic is that it may renew our capacity to enjoy some of the pleasurable, little experiences that many of us, prior to COVID-19, probably took for granted.”
On that note, imagine the pleasure of being able to do this in real life: