The Impending Digital Divide: Leadership Can’t Be Digitized

By November 14, 2018Strategy

Most companies I work with are driving at top speed to upgrade their digital capacity. Digital acceleration is happening so quickly that companies are fearful they will get left behind. More analytics, more gap analysis, more data, more “drilling down.” You can add AI and blockchain to their challenges, making the digital climb even steeper. And let’s not forget to add social media, customer expectations, and competition to expanding their digital presence. “Without a robust and well-funded digital strategy, we’ll get crushed.” Those statements about digitization are valid but only cover half of what it takes to succeed.

It’s about people

Companies are now so focused on generating their digital stratagem and its implementation, they are forgetting the irrefutable fact that it’s about people. Companies are getting sucked into the vortex of greater and greater digital power and competency, but what they are overlooking is this one unalterable fact: companies are people. And you can’t digitize people.

Emotions are arbitrary and capricious. One day you’re indifferent, another day you’re charged. Emotions can’t be digitized; one day you feel happy, and on another day you feel sad. No algorithm can dictate how you will feel at any moment, or even what ignited that feeling in the first place. There are no constants in emotions. The range of emotions is incalculable. There is no consistent direct link between stimulus and response when it comes to emotions. Zeroes and ones have no power to forecast emotions. Thoughts — the way the human mind works — can’t be digitized. The mind has extremely variable sequencing.

My validation of this statement is proven in the following exercise: “Predict your next thought.” You can’t. I understand about affirmations and mantras — been there, done that. But now, at work or at home, as you read this post, can you predict your next thought? The answer is indisputable — you can’t.Yes, you can focus on and disregard thoughts that are occurring unrelated to that which you are focused, but those unrelated thoughts come along all the time, distracting you from your focus. The mind is unable to be “hard-wired.” The mind can’t be sequenced. The mind follows no linear nor logical pattern. Data analysis is useful for noting trends and patterns, which expands your capacity to predict appropriate action steps. But what you can’t predict is what people are thinking. What you can’t predict is how people are feeling.

Leadership and Digitization

Leadership can’t be digitized. It requires coming from the heart and the gut, not a data report. Culture, which is one of leadership’s accountabilities, can’t be digitized. Culture is an expression of the people within it. The depth of true commitment cannot be quantified. Team chemistry can’t be digitized. Anything that requires direct human interaction can’t be digitized. There is no “off/on” switch that can be applied to how the mind or feelings work. All you really have with people to affect their mind and their feelings is influence. Influence is defined as the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.

The only power tool in the toolbox of leadership is influence. You can hold up all the data points you want, but if people are angry with their manager, or worried about a family member, or have a pending diagnosis for a health concern, or are in the middle of a divorce, the impact of data analysis and reporting will fall on deaf ears. I am not saying don’t drive for superior digitization and all it can do, but don’t do it at the expense of your people. Don’t’ be asleep to what is occurring in your culture. Is there teamwork? Comradeship, acknowledgment, support, authentic communications? What needs to be clearly understood is this universal principle: whatever you focus on expands. Be careful in your digital quest, because it will continue to expand.

But if leadership doesn’t expand equally, enormous problems are await you. How people think and act is directly subject to influence. And as a leader, your major job responsibility is to influence their thinking and actions. Your job as a leader is to influence your people and your culture to deliver top performance and results. And that’s something that can’t be digitized. You can hire for expanding digitization in your company. You can get the latest and greatest IT, AI, and smart spreadsheets. But your job as a leader is to grab your people by the heart and have them wholeheartedly follow you on your vision and mission.