Leadership: Become a Digital-Age Thinker

In June 2005, the National Basketball Association (NBA) crowned the San Antonio Spurs “World Champions.” When David Stern, NBA commissioner, presented the team its championship trophy, he proclaimed the Spurs as “truly an international team of stars.” The team’s top three players, Tim Duncan, Emanuel Ginobili, and Tony Parker were born outside the continental United States. The team of stars consists of players who were born in America, Argentina, France, Republic of Georgia, Russia, Slovenia, and the Virgin Islands. If the Spurs’ players, coaches, and management team symbolize 21 st century globalization, then business and educational organizations need to reevaluate their leadership style to embrace diversity.

Technology is Changing Leadership

Throughout history, societies have chosen people with extraordinary abilities as their leaders. These leaders were able to create change with the technologies they had available, enabling the quality of life we have today. Although many leader heroes have given us models that personify the desirable leadership qualities, the new circumstances of the modern world have reshaped the leadership profile we need today.

A knowledge economy defines the modern world. School leadership, throughout history, has always carved the path that defined the future world. Now, with a knowledge economy, school leaders are challenged to implement changes to a system that once created great organizations because the distribution of knowledge is not endemic to educational leadership. Knowledge is distributed openly and knowledge workers have a clearer understanding of their work than their leaders.

Changes brought about by modern technology have inspired knowledge workers, knowledge management, and the knowledge economy. One of the engines that propels the knowledge world is the Internet. The Internet has cultivated new communities of practice and has redesigned the way we conduct business. But, unlike business- and service-oriented organizations, the public education system has been slow in embracing the digital age opportunities.

The causes of this reluctance are embedded in the beliefs of school leaders, the “this too shall pass” syndrome. Additionally, it is rooted in the habit of repeating an action with the expectation of a different outcome. Although most of the world knows this as a symptom of insanity, in education, it is called the “cyclical or recursive mode of curriculum and instruction.” The saying in education is that if you hang around long enough, the same concepts of teaching and learning keep coming back. Perhaps this is why many school leaders see technology as intrusive. As it has never been a part of the education landscape before it is not recursive – and therefore intrusive.

Technology is viewed mainly as a tool with the potential for some future greatness. To adapt practices to include technology, school district leaders should

  • Follow the lead of businesses to realize more benefits from technology,
  • Allow technology leaders to join the decision-making team,
  • Integrate effective use of technology in all academic disciplines, and
  • Provide on-going staff development on integrating technology in all academic disciplines.
  • Knowledgeable and literate in their field;
  • Systemic and strategic thinkers;
  • Successful at implementing major projects or programs;
  • Able to communicate, motivate, and cultivate;
  • Confident in making important decisions with limited data;
  • Self-assured;
  • Attuned to the values and benefits of globalization; and
  • Infused with technological savvy
  • Practice knowledge-management principles
  • Support tacit knowledge
  • Cultivate intellectual capital
  • Work with talented and self-motivated people
  • Develop communities of practice
  • Encourage critical thinking
  • Use data for decision making
  • Embrace diversity
  • The computer as a medium: When an educator thinks of the computer as a tool for learning, it serves only the function as defined. Change the paradigm and the computer will evolve into a medium that can be integrated into the curriculum to improve student learning.
  • The leader as a facilitator of knowledge: True school reform should focus on retooling teacher education. The world community has become closer, sharing knowledge and information through the concept of facilitating teaching and learning via technology at school, home, and the workplace.
  • The leader as a practitioner of global culture: The global culture extols the virtues of diversity and difference in many forms and successful leaders are practitioners of globalization. Culture provides a foundation for changes, an avenue for alignment, a medium to infuse values, and an opportunity for individuals to commit to loyalty.
  • The leader adopts a laissez-faire style: Successful leaders are versed in the traditional leadership principles, and they are able to stand on the shoulders of giants to get a clear view of the future. Successful leaders have confidence in themselves, are not afraid to make mistakes, and are not afraid to seek out people with skills and talents way beyond their own. They must harness the value of tacit knowledge within the organization.
  • Agility — the ability to make decisions quickly and decisively,
  • Capacity — the innate ability to thrive on ambiguity,
  • Authenticity — the ability to be consistent and credible,
  • Connectivity — the ability to bridge differences and generate trust,
  • Inimitability — the ability to capitalize on talents and intangible qualities, and
  • Passion — the ability to infuse passion for building teams and great organizations.
  • Friedman T. L. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Kanter, R. M. (2001). Evolve! Succeeding in the digital culture of tomorrow. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing up digital: The rise of the net generation. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Taylor, F. W. (1911). The principles of scientific management. New York: Harper & Brothers.
  • Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Email:Neil Mercurius