The One Leadership Secret That Will Never Involve A Mobile Device (or Any Computer)

Conversation is the secret“We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.” – Sherry Turkle

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.

Lead well!




  1. says

    Terry – very nice post, well said. The need for personal communication is addressed in this post in a compelling manner. It’s nice to see that the “face to face conversation” is valued by others in leadership positions. I find it an essential part of my coaching practices to help executives move their company to greatness. Thanks.

  2. says

    Terry, thank you for this post.
    Conversation is so important to medicine that it wasn’t until truly mobile video chat became available that a virtual doctor’s office was possible. A wise mentor of mine told me that if I didn’t know what the patient had or what they needed BEFORE I put them on the exam table, I hadn’t had a long enough conversation with them. To him, all our diagnostic technology was created only to confirm what a conversation had revealed. All our therapeutic technology was pointless if it didn’t advance a quality of life that was meaningful to the patient …and the only way we would know what mattered to the patient was … through attentive conversation.

    The economic and regulatory forces on that doctor-patient relationship have become so great that there is no longer “time” for that meaningful conversation if a doctor is going to make a living. My hope for mobile technology is that it so substantially lowers the overhead of practicing medicine that there is once again time to converse and allows doctors to once again go “where people live.”

    Now I just need to find the whiz kid who can put the camera in the center of the monitor or device so that we can actually look each other in the eye when we converse at a distance(calling all media tech entrepreneurs). It is still not the same as being in the room in the flesh but it can take connection to the level of conversation.

    The most important and underutilized tool in medicine today is real communication. And communication is still the function of the humans holding the technology.

  3. says

    I am 100% in agreement! Technology cannot replace interpersonal relationships. Interestingly I thought younger generations, the ones who have always known the Internet, would be better at this, but they don’t seem to be.

    You can do many things via tools like instant messaging, email and the phone, but you cannot replace relationships, and that is a skill that we all have to continue to improve at.

  4. Jessie Paterson says

    I couldn’t agree more. As humans we are designed to experience life through all our senses and digital media has its limitations in this area. We all have basic human needs which can only genuinely be met by face to face contact. Developments in technology are awesome but please use it to compliment how you live your life rather than let it take over. Maslow would be totally freaked out if he knew what we were all getting up to!


  1. […] The One Leadership Secret That Will Never Involve A Mobile Device (or Any Computer)  This post comes from Terry Starbucker.  Terry highlights the power of personal conversation in the midst of a very virtual world.  Terry always shares very practical advice from his own leadership experience. […]

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