A Reflection on Modern Leadership Roles and Paradigms in the Digital Era

The past eight weeks that were spent blogging in this course has been an enlightening,  intriguing, and thought-provoking period for me. It has greatly stretched my understanding and knowledge of technology from the leadership perspective in a number of different ways; and in the process has opened-up new lines of thinking about technology and leadership’s role with respect to it. In the course of my book and article readings, video viewings, and blogging postings, one central idea or theme kept emerging again and again, and it is something that I will identify and discuss in greater detail later in this blog post. For now, I would like to begin this last post with a retrospective look at those lessons that were absorbed from this course. But before I move ahead, I should mention that I really appreciate the diversity of technology topics covered in this course, along with their corresponding implications for leadership—it has made for some truly absorbing and engaging blog discussions. These discussions not only challenged some of my currently held perceptions about technology, but also prompted me to rethink those perceptions more fully after considering what was brought to light with respect to them. In particular, was the notion that technology was something that gave humans greater control over their lives—both personally and professionally. However, I have come to accept that this is not always the case given open source software, cyber threats, and social media; as well as the liberating effects associated with being always connected to a vast cloud of information resources and with virtual communities who share and exchange knowledge.

In the first week, the concepts of a flat and spiky world made its way into my thinking and vocabulary. These two polarized views of the world, one proposed by Thomas Friedman (2005) in his book entitled The World Is Flat (WikiSummaries, n.d.), and the other by Richard Florida (2005) in an article The World Is Spiky, revealed how it is possible to view technology’s impact in terms of whether it has or has not leveled the global economic playing field. While it is true to a certain extent that technology has transformed much of the world by how it collaborates, educates, and innovates; it is also true that there remain pockets in the world that have yet to be touched by technology or wholly integrated into its mainstream. This has had a profound effect on those populations that have not had the opportunity to become full participants in the era of information systems. These nonparticipants, who are caught in a digital divide, have had less exposure to new ways of thinking because the opportunity [technology] to share ideas on a broader or global scale isn’t available to them; therefore, without the “. . .long-term disruptive. . .changes in the way people collaborate,” as Shirky (Chui, 2014) in week 2 of the course described, they will most likely remain on the technological sidelines—and will probably not experience the benefits of new technologies. And just as “the changes that are left in the wake of those new technologies often span generations” (Chui, 2014), the impact on these nonparticipants can be generational.

As blog discussions moved into weeks 3 and 4, the generational impact of technology was expanded further; particularly with regard to knowledge management (KM) and artificial intelligence (AI). In my week 3 blog, I made reference to Davenport’s list of KM “failure points” (Davenport, 2015) and reasoned that aside from the technological basis for the shift away from his classical framework of KM there was a generational one as well. While this was more of an observational argument on my part, it was nonetheless supported by an article written by Diana Oblinger entitled Boomers & Gen-Xers Millennials Understanding the New Students. In her article, Oblinger (2003) cited 10 attributes of an information-age mindset that Jason Frand, former Assistant Dean and Director at the UCLA Anderson School, had cataloged. The one attribute that I found of most interest was the following:

Doing is more important than knowing. Knowledge is no longer perceived to be the ultimate goal, particularly in light of the fact that the half-life of information is so short. Results and actions are considered more important than the accumulation of facts (Oblinger, 2003, p. 40).

Frand’s (as cited in Oblinger, 2003) comment with regard to “. . .knowledge is perceived to be the ultimate goal, particularly in light of the fact that the half-life of information is so short” underscores the transient nature of information today.  From there, my point concluded with the idea that this new generation of technology users have an entirely different attitude toward technology than their predecessors, which is one of more open collaboration within the least restrictive network environment possible. Therefore, in an age where technology and users’ attitudes have evolved, leaders must adapt and evolve as well so as to consider how best to implement KM or similar technologies for current and future users. This new generation’s attitude was further explored in week 4 within the context of artificial intelligence and the changing nature of work. In light of the concerns voiced by technology leaders such as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Clive Sinclair, and Bill Gates, that AI could essentially “spell the end of the human race” (Holley, 2015), it was my conclusion that future generations would most likely become more and more reliant, dependent, and trusting of intelligent systems, which could result in a more trusting and less resistant generation toward AI and AI controlled systems.

In weeks 5 and 6, my blog posts examined imagination and creativity within the context of networked workers, and ethics in the digital world within the context of the classroom of the future. In each, the focus was on how technology had transformed society and had brought with it solutions and side effects. Of all the course content reviewed in weeks 5 and 6, I found the Did You Know? video to be most compelling; particularly with regard to its assertion that “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . . Using technologies that haven’t been invented” (Fisch, 2010). The video underscored the evolving nature of knowledge creation and diffusion in the information age and how we must, as leaders, respond to it. That response isn’t one that is based on technology for technology’s sake, but technology that has a designed purpose in mind, whether it is the way we work, travel, learn, communicate, or live that drives or prompts us to use it. In education, the role of technology will be an important component in the classroom of the future—whatever sort of configuration and dimension it will ultimately take. However, it will not only take technology to make the classroom of the future a reality, it will also take a sound and well-reasoned pedagogy as well. Moreover, before we can design the physical learning spaces (Education 2025, 2016) and equip them with the latest technology, we must design a curriculum around them that works and that achieve the desired learning outcomes—if that can’t be done, then the learning spaces and the technology used therein must be re-evaluated and reformulated so as to achieve those outcomes.

This brings me to my week 7 blog post, which examined emerging technologies and its implications for leaders, and with how leaders stay current and adapt with it [technology]. The implications of emerging technologies for leaders is clear—and that is stay current or fall behind. Technology is in a constant state of evolution or flux, which has been the case throughout its history; however, since the emergence of the information age, the magnitude and rate of technological change has been exponential. These exponential changes require that workers and leaders be able to change and adapt quickly to new technologies—especially if they wish to exploit them to the maximum extent possible. What became clear through my week 7 readings and discussions, was that portable and wearable device technologies will be a future trend workers and leaders will need to adjust to and possibly plan for. These portable or wearable devices may dramatically change the way learning content is delivered in and outside the classroom one day. It is quite possible that wearable device technology (smartphones) “. . .will become the hub of a personal-area-network consisting of wearable gadgets such as healthcare sensors, smart jewelry, smart watches, display devices (like Google Glass) and a variety of sensors embedded in clothes and shoes” (Gartner, 2014). What end-form these future devices might take is anyone’s guess, but the implications for education could be profound in terms of content delivery and pedagogy. It is my sense that technology will continue to transform the classroom for years to come, and as such students will most likely prefer a learning management systems (LMS) that can deliver dynamic interactive content in a flexible and robust way. Moreover, the LMS should support powerful collaboration tools that will connect students with leading scholars and leaders in their chosen academic fields.

This now brings me to the central idea, or theme, that repeatedly and persistently surfaced during this course and that I promised to discuss later in greater detail—I should also mention that what I am about to offer or suggest here is not anything novel. Therefore, here it goes: After wrapping up and submitting a blog posts one evening, I began thinking about paradigms and how they shift and affect what we do from a technology and leadership standpoint—or perhaps from any standpoint for that matter. As I thought about this proposition further, I begin to conceptualize the notion that each of us could possibly be living within our own paradigm(s), which are defined by our own unique experiences, both formal and informal, and that that may also be influenced by other paradigms espoused by others. For example, if it is one’s practice to typically use or rely upon a certain type of technology or preferred leadership approach, this might be inferred as living within a particular paradigm that may or may not be shared, or completely shared, by others. However, if one were to discover, or unearth, new knowledge or ideas that would challenge and consequently cause one to question one’s current paradigm(s); and thus prompt one to remodel it—a shift would or might occur. This could be a shift in one’s thinking or practice that would cause one to act or operate differently. After reading Michele Martin’s article, A Deep Dive Into Thinking About 21st Century leadership, the idea of living within one’s own paradigm seemed to emerge as well. This is immediately evident in the first paragraph that appears under the article’s first heading “Leader as Hero, Leader as Host; and where Martin opens by writing:

Four years ago I wrote a post about moving from being the hero to being the host, based on the work of Meg Wheatly—how we are always looking for a hero (i.e. a “leader”) who is going to have all the answers and lead us out of our problems (Martin, 2015).

This would appear to suggest a paradigm shift in Martin’s own thinking about the role of leadership in today’s “. . . complex, ever-changing world where problems have become so complicated and interwoven that it’s impossible for any one person–or even a small group of people–to know the right answers or to be able to “save the day” (Martin, 2015). Could we say, based on her own personal account, that Martin has underwent a sort of leadership paradigm shift—that is to say a shift in her way of thinking and doing as a leader? If so, what event or new nugget of knowledge triggered that transformational paradigm shift? It appears that it was influenced by a number of ideas gathered from a number of sources (i.e., Meg Wheatley, Peter Drucker, Umair Haque, Etienne Wenger, Janna Anderson, and perhaps others not mentioned). But what I find most interesting about how Martin expressed her particular paradigm shift in thinking is how she defined it at a more personal level rather than at a global one. So instead of institutionalizing a formal set of leadership traits or practices, which has typically been the norm, Martin has taken a more introspective approach to leadership—a sort of paradigm shift occurring at the level of the person; not at the level of the institution or of established (mainstream) leadership theory.

To further this idea, Martin goes on to write in an update that:

I’m also reminding myself that part of my need to re-define “leadership” comes from the problems I wrote about in this post a few years ago, We have a Leadership Problem. And this realization in particular: at the heart of any notion of is a fundamental power imbalance where the leader wields power that followers do not. This is its fundamental flaw. “Leadership” marks some as “special” while others are not (Martin, 2015).

Could this be the “new leadership expectations” that Jared Lindzon wrote about in his article, 6 Ways Work Will Change In 2016, or that Martin (2015) described as a re-definition of “leadership”? In his discussion about new leadership expectations, Lindzon quotes Josh Bersin, who affirmed that “most companies, even big companies, are much less hierarchal and much less top-down in their execution than they used to be. . .” (Lindzon, 2015). This certainly would suggest a paradigm shift on a number of levels; however, what really needs to occur from a leadership perspective is a remodeling of leadership at the personal level; that is a shift in one’s own leadership paradigm that better aligns itself with the “skills and attitudes” Martin (2005) described in her thoughtful blog post “. . .as essential to modern leadership”. While each of the 11 skills and attitudes Martin lists are all certainly compelling, the one that stood out most to me was “Future-mindedness,” which Martin described as “horizon scanning, strategic foresight, looking for possibilities in the problems (Martin, 2015). I am convinced that technology has much to do with this thinking approach.

Now certainly that is novel thinking; “. . .looking for possibilities in the problems” (Martin, 2015) is without doubt a task that would require the application of the other 10 skills and attitudes of a modern leader. Since it is problems that we typically tend to avoid or resist, or to seek swift fixes for, it would seem antithetical for one to look for possibilities in a problem. Given that, perhaps traditional problem-solution paradigms need some rethinking in the current digital era of leadership. In an attempt to avoid from straying too far from the thesis that I began in the foregoing paragraphs, I would ask that you indulge me a bit as I attempt to address the problem-solution paradigm a bit further and to conclude it properly. In short, Bart Barthelemy and Candace Dalmagne-Rouge (2013), writing on innovation in the Harvard Business Review, offered this approach to working through a problem so as to achieve the best possible solution:

First, force yourself to stay in the problem space as long as possible. Obviously, companies sometimes face real restrictions on the types of solutions they can consider. But often those limits are purely psychological, the result of narrow thinking about the nature of the problem. So go deep. Look for underlying issues. What’s the real obstacle you face? Once you’ve found it, go deeper still. What’s the essence of that obstacle? (Barthelemy & Dalmagne-Rouge, 2013).

As leaders, we may need to spend more time in the “problem space” until we find those possibilities in the problems that would otherwise been overlooked had we not spent sufficient time there. This may very well be the pathway to finding those paradigm and role defining shifts that as leaders we may need to make in a time when technology is redefining workspaces, organizations, and the roles of the people that occupy them.

 

References:

Barthelemy, B. & Dalmagne-Rouge, C. (2013). When you’re innovating, resist looking for solutions. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/09/when-youre-innovating-resist-l/

Chui, M. (2014). The disruptive power of collaboration: An interview with Clay Shirky. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/high-tech/our-insights/the-disruptive-power-of-collaboration-an-interview-with-clay-shirky

Davenport, T. H. (Jun 24, 2015). Whatever happened to knowledge management? The Wall Street Journal.

Education-2025. (2016). The classroom of the future.  Retrieved from https://education-2025.wikispaces.com/The+Classroom+of+the+Future

Fisch, K. (2010, March 2). Did you know 3.0 . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jp_oyHY5bug&ab_channel=vlbworks2010)

Florida, R. (2005). The world is spiky. Retrived from http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/images/issues/200510/world-is-spiky.pdf

Gartner, (2014). Gartner identifies top 10 mobile technologies and capabilities for 2015 and 2016. Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2669915

Holley, P. (2015, January 29). Bill Gates on the dangers of artificial intelligence. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com

Lindzon, J. (2015). 6 ways work will change in 2106. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3052836/the-future-of-work/6-ways-work-will-change-in-2016

Martin, M. (2014). A deep dive into thinking about 21st century leadership. Retrieved from http://www.michelemmartin.com/thebambooprojectblog/2015/12/work-in-progress-the-leadership-lab.html

Oblinger, D. (July/August 2003).  Boomers Gen-X-ers millennials: Understanding the new students. Educause Review.

WikiSummaries. (n.d.). The world is flat. Retrieved from http://www.wikisummaries.org/wiki/The_World_Is_Flat

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7 thoughts on “A Reflection on Modern Leadership Roles and Paradigms in the Digital Era

  1. Another thought provoking post! I have always felt that our personal life experiences have influenced how we as leaders/followers interacts with others in an organization. The notion of paradigm shifts that you eloquently wrote on has made me also wonder if perceived roles by others in an organization has impacted on how others may respond to you as a leader. We have just completed a semester long workshop with several students from various programs at the university (nursing, PA, OT, PT). During one session, we had the students write down 3 characteristics/traits of the following disciplines: MD, PA, OT, PT, Nursing and patient). A word cloud was created and what was surprising was the characteristics they saw for MD: Leader, researcher, boss, orders, intelligent, knowledgeable. The students immediately identified the MD as the leader in a group. This is after having several sessions where the emphasis is on collaboration and teamwork. Now these are students how have yet to be in their clinical rotations and yet they already have the preconceive notion that MDs are the leaders in an organization. As future health care providers, will they have the “future-mindedness” to look at a problem and react to it ( horizon scanning, strategic foresight, looking for possibilities in the problem). Or will a balanced/ team approach leadership style be better?

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  2. Siti:

    Wow! What an excellent and thorough recap of the past eight weeks. You capture the experience in words I wish I could have come up with in my Week 8 blog. This course has awakened me to the vast reality of the tremendous possibilities exist in technology and the future of artificial intelligence. We have some much to take advantage of that we may never do it all. There is so much to look forward to that we will not get to live to see. I am still blown away at the Corning videos we watched and what they reveal about the future of technology and glass. The exciting part is how easy and efficient it will make our lives. The scary part is, to take advantage of all the benefits, you have to be willing to share more of the information about yourself that was once held under strict privacy and confidentiality.

    The platforms, software, tools and trends we have been introduced to has given me enough to keep me busy regarding diffusing technology into my personal and professional space to keep me challenged and engaged until the day I no longer works. I am committed now more that ever to find my personal niche and professional capabilities in order to stay relevant and young at heart as a leader in technology. Shifting from knowledge management to idea management, creating a wirearchy of participation and inclusion, comprised of transformational leaders who are also social artists positions an organization for good success.

    Kelvin

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  3. Great post, I enjoyed your review and insights from the past seven weeks. While many points in your post caught my eye, one in particular held it. You noted, Jason Frand, former Assistant Dean and Director at the UCLA Anderson School, cataloged 10 attributes of an information age mindset and you found the one of most interest to be “Doing is more important than knowing.” He argues that due to the short life of information knowledge is no longer the goal. I would argue he is wrong. Knowledge is always the goal – and we learn by doing. Thus, doing is important because it is how we experience something, evaluate it, and reflect on what it means. If all we did was “do things” I do not think we would advance very far. I could agree that in our stage of learning and knowledge building on the topic of technology today “doing” is the stage most are at as we attempt to assimilate technology in some manner. But evolution comes because we gain knowledge and advance our learning. My two cents!

    I also found myself considering the transformation needed in education as I read your post. There are systems and processes embedded in education – might technology disrupt these and facilitate a more nimble and agile system of education? I hope so. The era of taking long periods of time to evaluate and incrementally change processes and systems is fast fading away. Agility helps us steward our resources more effectively if we are willing to release old paradigms and engage in new ones.

    Finally, I liked your review of paradigms. I could not agree more. All of the changes we are experiencing in significant domains of life may be a harbinger of a breakthrough era coming. Our worldviews are evolving and leadership is being redefined (it was already tough to capture) and I believe we will all be a part of that new definition and process. Our task perhaps is to delve deep and uncover our personal root causes of resistance, fear, and personal leadership expectations.

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    1. Raven,
      Thank you for taking the time to review and to respond to my week 8 blog post. Our blog post exchanges over the past 8 weeks have been both illuminating and stimulating.

      While I agree with much, if not all, of your post, I should probably clarify Jason Frand’s point about “Doing is more important than knowing” (as cited in Oblinger, 2003). What Frand was describing, and Oblinger was citing, was an information-age mindset he had observed in Millennials. This was within the context of attempting to understand the differing learning styles, attitudes, and approaches of today’s high school students (Oblinger, 2003). My use of this reference was to support the idea that the current generation of technology users view technology differently than those of previous generations—particularly with respect to the outmoded models of Knowledge Management (KM), which is diametrically opposed to the information-age mindset of Millennials. Frand’s point also addressed the transient nature (half-life) of information today as opposed to how it was measured in the past. As Frand pointed out in his article, The Information-age Mindset: Changes in Students and Implications for Higher Education,

      In the past, the half-life of information was measured in decades and centuries, certainly than most individuals’ life span. . . .But today we live in a world in which digital technologies have altered time and space so that events occur in real time, effects are immediate, and reaction times are cut short. In many disciplines, the half-life of information is measured in months and years (Frand, 2000).

      So as an educator, it is important to understand how technology has altered perceptions and mind-sets about information, knowledge, and learning—particularly with respect to the mindset of today’s information-age learners (Millennials).

      References:

      Oblinger, D. (July/August 2003).  Boomers Gen-X-ers millennials: Understanding the new students. Educause Review.

      Frand, J. (September/October 2000).  The information-age mindset: Changes in students and implications for higher education. Educause Review.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. An excellent post, Siti, and I totally agree with your personal paradigm shift! I would also suggest that the networked environment we have explored allows for multiple perspectives to be brought to bear on problems, and with those multiple perspectives, new opportunities can emerge. Great point!

    Best of luck as you continue on your academic and leadership journey. I hope your organization takes a similar view!

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    1. Dr. Watwood,
      Thank you for challenging me to think more deeply about the technology and leadership topics covered in this course. It is greatly appreciated. A gentleman friend of mine, who I always addressed as Mr. Block, once told me that: “Two heads are better than one, even if they are blockheads!” True story by the way. But there is little doubt that the networked environment of today represents a fertile domain wherein collaboration and the free expression and exchange of ideas can occur and thus be expanded. These multiple perspectives, as you mentioned, are what energize and pique my interest to explore new opportunities and seize upon them when they emerge. Thanks again for a great experience here in this forum!

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