Technology: Working smart without losing heart

As business leaders, we are increasingly confronted with questions around technology – questions like “How much?”, “Which one?” and “What for?”. A good leader comes prepared and one can prepare for these questions by staying abreast of trends, looking out for innovations and seeking expert advice.I would argue, however, that these are not leadership questions at all, and no amount of preparation will make them so.

The primary leadership question is always “Why?” and technology is no exception. “Why should I pay attention to technology when my primary focus is leading people?”

The answer lies in identifying what gets in the way of leading people, understanding what technology does well and harnessing it to sharpen your focus: “Because technology can remove some of the barriers to leading people effectively.”

Technology, like a hammer, does a few things exceptionally well and a number of other things rather poorly. Processing data, creating consistency and sharing information are strengths. Providing context, connecting people and adapting to change are not, despite the promises of infographics, teleconferencing and Deep Blue.

Using your toolbox 

Harnessing technology starts with expanding one’s perspective – using it more like a toolbox than a hammer.  There are many different tech tools available and confusing their merits is a lot like trying to knock in a nail with a spanner or remove a screw with pliers. Sadly, many people across organisations waste hours each week doing just this – using tech tools inappropriately.  This not only wastes company resources but also leads to a culture of frustration, followed by indifference and ultimately neglect. The impact is a significant drain on productivity, completely counter to the promise of improved effectiveness and efficiency.

Spreadsheets, word processing applications and email are the business tools we rely on to process data, create consistent documents and share information, but using any of these tools for tracking team progress or performance leads to the very duplication, inaccuracies and inconsistency we want to avoid. Messaging and workspace apps go some way towards keeping teams in touch, but exclude the non-verbal aspects that make up 80% of effective interpersonal communication. The result is often misinterpretation, the leader’s nemesis.

This brings me to the heart of leadership that is often trampled or simply neglected in the pursuit of technology.

The heart of leadership is connecting with your people and this requires a masterful blend of context, conviction and care. Context gets our attention, conviction makes us believe and care invites us to contribute. The astute leader appreciates that technology is wholly ineffective in this space and ensures that it is both used appropriately (for data, consistency and sharing) and confined to its strengths across the organisation. This frees up precious time and energy to lead with heart.

Author: Malcolm Ferguson is Academy Head at TowerStone, a leadership centre which empowers leaders to build a values-driven culture for sustainable success. Visit: