Much has been written about leadership in the academic literature over the past century. There have been many theories that range from leader-centric theories (e.g. trait theories, skills theories) to more group-based theories or ‘leadership as a process’ theories (e.g. transformational leadership). The thinking on leadership has developed over time and here I explore one of the more recent challenges for the leader to navigate which is the increasing use of the internet in the workplace and the impact of this on their role in the organisation. Finally, the paper will end with potential implications for the design of leadership development programmes.
The increasing use of the internet in organisations means there is an increased opportunity for transparency and directly engaging with all employees, particularly in a global organisation. From a skills perspective, this opens up a new set of skills that a competent leader may need to develop to be successful today. This applies not only to how a leader interacts with employees but now with social media, it applies also to communication with customers. Leaders need to consider not only what information they share through this medium but also the short-term and long-term risks associated with the information they choose to share or not share. This is more pronounced in organisations that may be international as the internet removes physical boundaries, whilst requiring more culturally sensitive communication. This illustrates the types of skill that the leader must consider and develop i.e. the ability to effectively communicate to achieve organisational goals across national boundaries and cultural differences whilst being sensitive to all and also risk management in relation to information sharing.
‘Leadership as a process’ theories
If we examine this using ‘leadership as a process’ theories, this is perhaps where the increasing use of the internet in the work place provides most opportunity. With channels such as social media, blogs, even the company website, the leader is provided with the opportunity to communicate directly with employees and even customers in a way that we have not seen before. Whilst this can benefit all types of leaders, transformational leaders may be more likely to maximise use of the opportunities to build relationships and share his/her vision and increase influence.
Implications for leadership development
Let us consider the implications of the above reflections on the design of leadership development programme. Whilst the internet provides a great opportunity for leaders, it also brings with it the need for an array of skills in the leader’s toolkit such as culturally sensitive communication, risk management in relation to information sharing as well as many others. Leadership development programmes would need to help leaders to understand the new skills required in using the internet in their role, identify their skills gap in relation to their use of the internet in their relationship with their employee and customers. The programmes would then need to provide awareness and support them to build these skills. For example, the internet may encourage and facilitate the delivery of more transformational leadership style. This direct communication also creates the need for a more democratic leadership style. Leadership can be a challenging yet important role in any organisation as it is. With the increasing role of the internet in organisations, it is imperative that the impact of the internet on leadership and leadership development receives further review and discussion.