Leadership, as I often like to say, is the number 1 factor bar none that accounts for organisational success. Even if everything else is set-up to work, to be effective and to be efficient, a bad leader can screw up every advantage, natural or contrived. Nowadays we talk about the big three things driving organisations: People, Processes and Technology, and clearly leadership is in the first category.
My own company relies heavily on technology for its outcomes and its success. It would be true to say that even 15 years ago it would be difficult to conceive of how my company could have worked and functioned without the outstanding technological innovations of the last twenty years. So do I like technology? You bet! And yet I feel too that technology is becoming far too widely accepted without the scrutiny and critical analysis that properly belongs to a leader’s function (or one that the leader would and should commission). Put another way: there are at least three major problems with technology that leaders – in their rush to be successful – seem to conveniently ignore, and I would like to outline them here.
First, that technology has a dreadful habit of sponsoring co-dependence and ultimately servitude. We see this in the street or on the train: the men and women who cannot stop barking into a mobile phone; and those who cannot prevent themselves accessing their emails wherever they are, including at family socials. The great French writer Proust magisterially foresaw this as early as the late Nineteenth Century when a friend asked him to acquire a telephone and Proust asked what a telephone was. The friend patiently explained – it sat on your wall, it rang, you picked it up, you spoke with somebody miles away. But for Proust it was enough to know it rang – ‘I am the servant of that!’ he exclaimed. When bells rang, servants were summoned. He had no intention of being a servant to a bell ringing on his wall; he realised the essential infringement of his liberty that was contained in the very concept of a phone.
Which leads to the second point: the law of unintended consequences. We see technology as being a solution; but always with the solution there seems to be an accompanying deeper problem. After all, only thirty years ago the new technology was supposed to liberate us; we were only going to be working 2 or 3 day weeks as the technology and the robots took the strain. (Not much talk of that now, though, is there? – all conveniently shelved). But of course the precise opposite has happened. Now, with all this technology abounding, both partners HAVE to work, hours of work are massively extended, Sundays or days or rest barely exist in some sectors, and so it goes on. The technology that sets us free has enslaved us (and it has done other things as well when we consider the state of the Earth). What has the leader to say about this?