Leadership Skills vs. Digital Natives

Updated Over a Week Ago


Leadership is going through an extreme makeover.

The digital natives who appear on college and university campuses each year have become a more demographically diverse population, bringing with them an insatiable appetite for the use of technology.

Technology in many regards is becoming their primary tool for communication, connection, and information because they trust it. Digital natives spend more than 50% of their waking hours connected in some way to the Internet and that number will only go up!

Digital natives are graduating from school, being hired, and showing up in our offices. We are surprised by their work ethic, their perspective on work and life in general, and we are amazed at their insatiable use of technology.

Think about it – from the car in the parking lot as they walk through the lobby headed to their offices they’re texting or reading emails and making that final Tweet or Facebook post. Technology is a wonderful thing and makes our companies, homes and world better and we knew the digital age was coming. However, that we didn’t know is that it would create the need for an overhaul of the leadership mindset.

These digital natives and their increasing use of technology has created challenges for today’s leaders who may not have the capacity to capture their attention and deliver at multiple points of connection over long periods of time.

Leadership Through Technology

Today’s Leaders are competing with technology in way that they perhaps are not totally aware of or prepared for. Technology can deliver at a much faster rate than a leader can and, in some cases, these digital natives will use technology to get around a leader. So, the questions become:

  • How do we lead digital natives without disrupting the creature comfort features of their digital world?
  • How do we meet them at all of the points of connection they have?
  • How do we lead them and not become distracted by the technology that we think is distracting them?

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Where in the world do I start? Well, you’re asking the right question and questions have a funny way of opening doors and opportunities for learning.

But, before we answer the questions, let’s take a mental break and go for a walk through the woods.

Relax, Take a Deep Breath

So, here we are in the middle of a beautiful forest, the sound of a babbling brook in the distance as nature caresses our ears with the soothing sound of the true simplicity of life. The air is fresh and you are totally relaxed, your mind is clearing from all of the things that have claimed your attention, and you’re discovering that much of what you thought was important really isn’t all that important at all.

Your mind is getting the much-needed clarity of what really matters as you have now discarded the things that have served as distractions and now you are focused.

Now that this mental walk through the forest has cleared our minds, we can begin answering those questions.

Question One

How do we lead digital natives without disrupting the creature comfort of their digital world and still keep them productive?

The Answer: You have something in common with digital natives and this common thread is far greater than technology. It’s our brains! Despite the digital age, the brain is still the world’s greatest super computer and it is the place we can connect and lead digital natives at a very deep level. The brain performs more task in a millisecond than we can discuss, but its basic function is centered around three major activities:

  • Receiving information
  • Creating files for that information
  • Retrieving files when needed

As a leader, it’s important that we understand the basics of how the brain works. When you’re interacting with staff members, knowing how their brain works will make your communications with them more meaningful, resulting in better outcomes.

An example would be, if someone is using the emotional part of their brain and you’re speaking to them about information that requires them to use the logic portion of their brain, the two of you are not on the same page. That means your message is not effectively getting through which will affect the outcome.

Understanding how the brain works allows you to shape your leadership in a way that stimulates the brain with messaging that is emotional, engaging and directive. The brain can’t resist this kind of stimulus.

Question 2

How do we meet them at all of the points of connection that they have?

Answer: In messaging, nothing is more important than frequency. That said, you must communicate with them on their frequency. Text messaging, email, voicemail, Twitter, and Facebook have many different frequencies, but thanks to account sync (a feature offered on smart phones) you can be assured that important messages get to them.

Here’s a strategy: Create a text message group with key individuals of your team. Once you’ve created the group, use it to provide leadership to your team with specific communications. This will allow you to connect, lead and drive performance.

Question 3

How do we lead them and not become distracted by the technology that we think is distracting them?

Answer: Our mission must be focused; we must be clear about what we are communicating and the need for which we are communicating it. That said, as we seek to meet the digital natives at these points of connection clarity of the goal is the focus.

Our message must be focused, targeted, timely, and action oriented or the message itself could get distracted, resulting in less than favorable outcomes. Technology begs us to play with it. As leaders this is a trap door so be sure to remain focused with your message and then move on.

Understanding digital natives is critical, communicating to them is vital, and understanding how they think is the key to leading them.

How Can Leaders Work With Digital Natives?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Mark Hampton
Mark Hampton
Mark founded FTL Leadership Group in 2005 when he wrote his second book “Follow the Leader” a leadership book that improves personal leadership ability with a focus on high quality people interactions.
  • Terry Jackson says:

    Excellent article. Great questions for all leaders to ponder. Your solutions are solid and must be considered by all leaders. We must remember that all people want to be inspired by some great vision.

  • D. Davidson says:

    Not all Geeks are Digital Natives.
    We know how to bridge the gaps and calm the turbulent waters.

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