We are living in an extraordinary era where digital communications has revolutionized the way we live, work, and play.
For those of us old enough to remember a world without “devices” or “portables”, the possession of all that computing power and global reach in the palms of our hands is awe inspiring.
But yet it scares me, more and more with each passing day.
It scares me because I feel we are losing something from this big change – something that, from a leadership perspective, I believe is an absolute necessity to build a team that can (and will) move mountains.
The power of face-to-face conversation.
This scary notion was compounded for me this morning when I read a great opinion piece by Sherry Turkle in the New York Times, “The Flight From Conversation”. Ms. Turkle has been studying the effects of our new uber-connected world for the last 15 years, and came to this conclusion:
“We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.”
She’s right – there is no substitute.
And the leaders that keep this in the forefronts of their minds, and not let technology rule the way they lead, will be the ones possessing a real, modern-day “secret“.
I figured this out 9 years ago, when our company purchased cable systems in the Rocky Mountain west. I was the SVP of Operations, and my office was in suburban New York. So 99% of the people that I was responsible for were many miles away.
It was all too easy to stay pinned to my comfortable chair and my nice office, using all the wonderful digital tools at our disposal, even then. Yes, I could find ways to remotely connect with people. But I felt that in order to do my job most effectively, I had to have real conversations with my team. A LOT of them. I wanted to look into the eyes of as many teammates as I could, and “see” their commitment, and listen to their feelings and passions.
So I traveled to the Rockies, and I spend 40-50% of my time out there, doing a lot of conversing. And I’m so glad I made that commitment, because it really was a difference maker. I could go back to New York with a rich and deep understanding of the collective “state of mind” of the workforce, and bring it with me to the boardroom. That way decisions would never get made in a vacuum, and thus, they were better decisions.
Could we have picked all that up remotely with our great technology? I believe not.
9 years later, now that even more technological wizardry exists, the need for leaders to keep face-to-face conversation alive and well is paramount. Because there is something to be found there, something that is often the difference between success or failure, that cannot be duplicated. In Ms. Turkle’s words:
“….we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.”
It is from those revelations our leadership truly thrives.
Yes, let us use these awesome digital tools, but don’t ever forget the one secret that will NEVER involve them.