specialists in agile and advanced IT management and IT governance systems for complex business and IT landscapes
specialists in agile and advanced IT management and IT governance systems for complex business and IT landscapes

Leadership in the Digital World

13 March 2017


Leadership vs management
Managers are appointed and their ability to influence depends upon the context and the authority vested in their position. Leaders may be appointed or emerge and they influence others to perform beyond the actions dictated by formal authority. All managers should be leaders but not all leaders will be managers. How leadership has evolved and continues to evolve must be understood.


Leadership theory
Leadership once had exclusively military or political connotations, e.g. Machiavelli (The Prince, 16th century). Plato (3C BC) and Plutarch (1C AD) mused over the traits that created great leaders. Trait Theory assumed for some time that these were inherited rather than developed, i.e. nature vs nurture (Francis Galton, 1822-1911) but others, e.g. Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), argued that these could be nurtured and developed. On the other hand Situational and Contingency Theory suggests that the times produce the man, not the other way round (Herbert Spencer, 1884). Charismatic Leadership Theory is a subset of Trait Theory.
Later these ideas gave way to Behavioural and Style Theory (e.g. Stogdill, 1948, and Mann, 1959) and Functional Leadership Theory (Hackman & Walton, 1986; McGrath, 1962; Adair, 1988; Kouzes & Posner, 1995). Leadership was no longer seen as an enduring individual trait but as behaviour whereby individuals may be effective leaders in certain situations but not all. Leader behaviours were expected to contribute to organisational or unit effectiveness. These ideas were put to use in the EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management) Excellence Model and in Path-Goal theory (Robert House, 1971). Behaviour and styles were sometimes used as a means of building effective teams, e.g. The Fiedler Contingency Model and The Least Preferred Co-worker questionnaire (Fred Fiedler, 1967). The Vroom Yetton Leader Participation Model (1973, 1988) considered three management styles (Autocratic, Consultative, and Group) for decision-making and offered a time-driven decision tree for group problems which recognises the information needs of the leader and subordinate. Visionary Leadership is a subset of Functional Leadership Theory.
More recent work has explored the relationship between the leader and team members, emotions, influence, and power. The Leader-Member Exchange Theory , e.g. Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995), shows that leaders trade leadership for commitment to the task. The type of exchange that develops will vary leading to “In-group” members (where the quality of the exchange is good) and “out-group” members (where the exchange is not good). Leadership is an emotionally laden experience. Emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage moods and emotions in the self and others, contributes to effective leadership within organizations (George, 2006). Integrated Psychological Theory (James Scouller, 2011) proposed three levels of leadership: Public, private and personal, i.e. influencing groups, individuals on a one to one basis, and developing self. Transactional and transformational leadership theory shows that leaders are given the power to reward for work done (transactional) or reform where there is poor performance (transformational), e.g. Bass and Riggio, 2006.


The changing leadership landscape
If leadership is the ability to influence a group towards the achievement of goals what does it take to do this in modern times? The characteristics of business today include:
• Globalisation – more markets, customers, and suppliers.
• More to know about – need others to contribute (increasing the scale of functional leadership).
• Change is continuous – need continuous contributions (some leaders in specialist areas may come and go).
• Social media allows people to communicate more effectively amongst themselves and so can be better informed than their leaders.
• Not all people are employed directly by the business (suppliers, customers, outsourced service staff, agencies, contractors, etc.), i.e. functional leadership can be siloed; traits, behaviour and style are not always apparent making it more difficult to build effective teams; transactional and transformational leadership possibilities are limited, cross-group collaboration and decision-making can be handicapped.
• Communication is often not face to face which can lead to misunderstandings, limited emotional intelligence, and a greater number of “out-group” members.
• One person may manage across all disciplines but is unlikely to be a leader across all disciplines.
• People are more empowered and so there is a risk of anarchy if not managed well.
Technology plays a part in all of the above. What characterises IT in this digital world is the ever broadening scale and scope of influence (e.g. the extended enterprise, the IoT), its complexity (e.g. managing across different platforms, changing development and deployment methods, Artificial Intelligence, robotics), internationalisation (e.g. the management of off-shore operations, cloud infrastructure), reduced barriers to entry (e.g. low capital costs making it is easier for business departments to do their own thing), and the increasing risk of cyber-attacks and the potentially devastating consequences. 
Moreover, the science of the relationship between business and IT service providers shows that leadership is a key part of all aspects of the relationship. More collaboration between groups is necessary and management across groups is now more demanding. There are many types of leader emerging, from overall leadership to the leadership of specialist topics at various stages/times. Technology management, leadership and governance are all of crucial importance to a successful business but there is still little understanding in the boardroom of how these should be measured or controlled.


Technology for the leadership, management and governance of IT
Back in history the heads of IT were typified as Tsars meaning they were managers and leaders perhaps with an autocratic or even military management style. Over the years, just as complexity has grown and leadership theory has evolved, so the process methodologies and management systems have evolved. As for IT governance it has never been adequately defined. Today as well as an overall leader and manager there will be many technology specialists, process experts, and group leaders. In truth the leadership, management, and governance of IT are all becoming impossible by conventional means. Just as situational contingency theory claims that ‘the times produce the man’ then times also determine when we need to change the way we work in order to continue to control and influence IT outcomes. 
We need to introduce more automation in order to manage the scale and complexity of IT and to avoid the failures that have characterised IT management over the years. This is now possible. We researched the problem and we are working on a prototype system that will introduce automation to the leadership, management and governance of IT that is suited to the digital world, that is consistent with the latest broader management thinking, and which will enable IT to be managed and controlled from the boardroom. 

Copyright© 2017, Dr David Miller, ITDYNAMICS Ltd All rights reserved

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