Technology as an Influence

I heard recently that the hierarchical structure in place in most corporations is a post-war phenomenon. Organization design immediately after World War II tended to follow a highly militaristic, tiered model, which has largely remained in place throughout the 20th century. Now, more than 50 years later, these structures are breaking down. Progressive organizations are rethinking their formal org structures and many executives are reconsidering how they lead their teams.

Take companies like Valve Software, the games company that quite famously eliminated managers and flattened their organization. Or Zappos, the online shoe company, which similarly eliminated job titles and their management structure. Even in organizations that are not taking such extreme measures, successful leaders are adopting communication approaches that are far less one-way, top-down and dictatorial.

What is causing this shift? Technology is one major driving force in this change. In their personal lives, people are using tools like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay in touch with family and far-away friends – and they see benefits from this social connection. They want this same level of collaboration and communication- or conversation – with their employers and leaders, as well as the companies they purchase from, invest in and frequent. Technology also gives us more flexibility in where and how we work – people are no longer tethered to desks or forced to travel to the office for every meeting. This enables leaders to extend their reach – to directly engage with customers, their broader community and new parts of the organization.

This more collaborative style of leadership brings benefits around innovation, productivity and engagement, but leaders need coaching and support to develop their social skills and behaviours and to learn to connect in new ways. In other words, in order for companies to make this shift, they need truly social leaders at the helm.



Be Interested, Not Interesting

Let’s face it, we all like to hear our own voices. From quite a young age, we are taught to be experts. We learn how to tell stories, give advice, make decisions, give presentations. This starts in school and is reinforced as we join the workplace and become leaders. But how much time is spent learning how to question? How to really listen?

Real conversation is bi-directional. The very best way to engage others in conversation is to really be interested- which involves really listening to what is being said and then asking questions. Here are just a few ideas for improving your listening and questioning skills:

1) Don’t try to multi-task: We live in a world of distractions. But to really listen, we need to put away all the distractions, put our phones away, turn off the voices in our heads reminding us of the 200 other tasks we have to complete before the end of the day, and really hear what the other person is saying to us.

2) Take notes: Turns out that when you doodled in your notebook margins during class as a teenager, it probably was helping you listen more carefully to your history teacher. Recent research shows that writing things down, even doodling, can help you concentrate.

3) Listen to understand, not reply: When we listen, we often are trying to think of the next clever question we can ask. Instead, we should focus on really understanding what is being said. If we do this, the best questions will come naturally.

4) Repeat back: We can both show the person who’s speaking that we’re listening, and ensure we’re on the right page, but paraphrasing what is being said to us. Often this repetition not only helps us as a listener, it helps the speaker become even clearer on what he or she is communicating.

5) Listen for intent: Sometimes people don’t say what they mean. This might be because they haven’t sorted it out themselves yet, but this can also be because they aren’t yet comfortable articulating it. If you really listen deeply, not only to the specific words being used, but also the body language and the tone, you can understand more.

Be interested, not interesting. Ironically, the less we talk about ourselves and listen to others, the more interesting people think we are.