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Leadership Problems in a Digital Age

Business leaders may need to help employees develop communication skills which may be lacking due to the human disconnect created by the 21st-century digital age.
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One of the biggest problems in business today often sit below the surface of major issues with companies. It is not one of the classic business issues such as lack of sales or poor cash flow management. It’s the struggle of being a successful, clear communicating human being within our companies in a digital age. In 2020, we struggle talking and effectively communicating with our fellow human beings, whether at work or home.

While the exact number has never been scientifically proven, it is well known that a sizable portion of communication, north of 70%, is accomplished through body language, including gesturing, facial expressions, smiling, tonality and more. Texting and email communication remove all of those vital communication pieces.

Instead of sitting down face-to-face on a Zoom call to resolve an issue, we hide behind technology. We send the implied message to others that devalue many relationships by treating our interactions with others as if it was a Slack channel exchange or text message interaction. We communicate in bite-sized text exchanges, communicate emotions with emojis and use email exchanges to negotiate with customers and vendors. The result is that the other party is left to assign tonality and vocal inflection to someone’s written exchange. This type of communication style creates confusion, unnecessary hurt feelings and misunderstanding.

As leaders with our organizations and our homes, we model this behavior for others. Children and many adults are not learning the skills of how to speak with people. We are lacking the skills to form deep, meaningful relationships, and we do not have the necessary skills to have necessary difficult conversations. In a lot of cases, it becomes a fear of talking with others and it is bleeding into the c-suites of our companies.

We are too scared to have a confrontation, so we just ignore people. We have taken up bad habits such as ghosting people in the workplace.

What we do not see when we avoid others is the collateral damage we are creating for the other people. Absent a meaningful exchange on an issue with another person, the ghosted person fills in that lack of information with their own version of the story. They infuse their thoughts with “the story they tell themselves” and it is normally negative. They create worst-case scenarios in place of meaningful, healing dialogue. The result of this thinking is often a trigger of self-doubt (Why won’t you talk to me?) and destruction of self-confidence (What is wrong with me?). This damage to another human being is the result of our own cowardice.

The reality is that leaders and entrepreneurs within our businesses must have difficult conversations. As the brilliant thought leader and author Simon Sinek points out, we are not leaders because of job titles or rank within the company, we are leaders because we had the courage to go first. For example, as entrepreneurs, we were the first people to take the first step toward opportunity to start our companies, we took the first financial risk by getting a bank loan or investing our life savings in our business idea. We are the first to trust another person because we offer them a job. Non-entrepreneurial leaders are often first to take on a big customer project or the first to tackle a complicated problem.

Now the challenge is for leaders to be willing to be the first to lean into — and not away from — difficult conversations with others. Business has to pick up the slack of education and family training that did not occur. Schools and parents have failed to equip our next generation of leaders. We have to do this because it has become the responsibility of business to grow better human beings within our organizations.

Companies and business leaders have to teach the skills of active listening as well as effective and frequent communication. We have to model the skill of giving and receiving feedback, and how to lean into difficult conversations, not avoid them.

Business leaders are in the powerful position to counteract the failings of schools and parents and can fight back against the human disconnect created by the 21st-century digital age.

About the Author

Todd Palmer

Todd Palmer

Todd Palmer is the president of Diversified Industrial Staffing, a national skilled labor recruiting firm, based in Troy, Michigan. 
Contact tpalmer@diversifiedindustrialstaffing.com.