My TED Talk: Leading in the Digital Era


I crossed an item off my bucket list when I gave a TED Talk at TED@IBM on Sept. 23rd. The event was part of the new TED Institute, which partners with companies to create TED-curated events.

The title of my talk was “Giving Up Control: Leading in the Digital Era”. One key data point from Gallup that continues to astound me is that worldwide only 13% of people are engaged in their work. It’s higher in the US, standing at 30% but that’s still terrible!

I believe that a big reason for this is that we don’t give enough autonomy to, and respect the growing agency of our employees, especially for the Millennials who crave purpose and meaning in their work. The hierarchies that exist in our organizations were designed for a bygone era where efficiency and scale were paramount. But today, speed, innovation, and creativity are the sources of competitive advantage.

Companies have been responding, deploying collaboration platforms and enterprise social networks to connect people throughout the organization. Shrinking the distance between previously siloed departments, or between executives and the front lines sounds great — unless you’re a middle manager.

The biggest problem leaders face in the digital era is that power and influence are being decoupled from titles and organizational structure. So how can you be an effective leader? Here are the three things that organizations can do:

  1. Create a Culture of Sharing. Instead of hoarding information to be powerful, leaders have to become facilitators who accelerate the sharing of information across a networked organization.
  2. Encourage the Practice of “Followership”. The size and quality of your network, not your title, determines how much power and influence you have, and thus, how much you can get done. If employees could build their “followership” across the organization and even outside the organization, then even if their titles or jobs changed, they could still be highly effective. This creates tremendous security that allows these managers to make tough decisions that might otherwise jeopardize their livelihood.
  3. Ensure Networks are being used to Make Meaningful Decisions. People are smart — they won’t devote time to engaging unless they know it’s going to make a difference. The biggest mistake I’ve seen organizations do when trying to transition into the digital era is to use these new tools to create the equivalent of a digital water cooler — talking rather than getting work done. No wonder they don’t last! Get leaders to pay attention, make key decisions on these networks and people will come.

What each of these has in common is the need to give up control. In the talk, I shared the journey I’m going through as the parent of teenagers, as they push for greater autonomy and trust to make their own decisions. In our work, if we truly want to have an engaged workforce, then we’re going to have to lead differently, and establish a new kind of relationship and trust that’s created and deepened with these digital tools.

I’ve embedded the slides and script of my talk below. In a few weeks, the video of my talk will be available and I’ll embed that here as well. I hope you find these materials helpful in your journey to become a leader in the digital era.

Webinar: A Foundation For Mobile Business

Now for a word on mobile in the enterprise. Altimeter’s mobile analyst, Chris Silva, is working on a report that explores how managers on the business-side – not the IT – side of the organization are increasingly leading the charge to bring mobility to their workforce.

A key challenge is how to build the control and security foundation for a mobile business strategy. Chris and I will be hosting an open, no-cost webinar on Wed March 28th at 10am PT/1pm ET that will discuss the key elements of the mobile control layer, its importance, and how both the technologies and leadership elements should come together to provide a foundation for a coherent enterprise mobility strategy. [Read more…]

Can you control your customers?

[Original posted at]

I just received an interesting email promotion for an upcoming conference. At the top of the email, in big bold letters was this:

“It’s time to take back control!”

Now that definitely caught my eye, as I’m writing a book about being open. That’s because the number one concern I hear from executives — and especially  marketers — is how out of control they feel these days.

Here’s some more text from the email:

“Reaching today’s consumers is more challenging than ever. Both savvy and wary of marketing, they control when, where and how they see your marketing message. With the power of social networking, they pull all the strings. But there are ways to win back some of that control. Give your message more impact and improve your chances of influencing the behavior of your current customers and prospects.

Join us at xxx where our industry’s best will show you how to master a multi-channel approach to give you more power and more control over your campaigns, your costs and your consumer.

This conference is a stepping stone towards harnessing the power of direct marketing.

Take back control.”

This event will likely draw a lot of people, because it plays to one of the largest concerns of marketers. But when a marketer approaches its customers with this mindset — that it is in a battle to control customers — it’s clear to me who will prevail. The customer, not the marketer will be the victor. That because there’s no way for the marketer to really “control” its customers. Who out there wants to be messaged to, to be controlled, by even the best brands out there?!?

What this copy refers to is this innate desire for marketers to time warp back to an era, not that long ago, where they felt that they were in control. Where they could chose when to “engage” with their customers, or  shut them out because they weren’t saying the things the company wanted to hear. The reality is that they weren’t really in control even back then —  they just felt like they were.

So to marketers who ask, “How can I control negative comments?” or “How can I control what people say about me on social sites?”, I can offer no solace. And I warn them from trying to find the relief they so desperately seek  in new products, creative techniques, or consultants that promise greater control. These companies sell the equivalent of today’s snake oil.

Instead, I hope that the conversation at this event begins with the simply acknowledgement that marketers are no longer in control, and instead, stress that it’s time to think about building a real relationship with those customers, one that is based on trust and dialog. To me, that would seem to be a much healthier way to approach the problem of feeling out of control.