How do we define e-leadership? What do company heads have to be able to do in the digital era? And what is ‘best practice’ in e-leadership?
At a time when companies are increasingly relying on information and communication technology (ICT) to come up with innovations both on the management side and in products and services, the strategic role of IT Managers and computer departments is expanding rapidly. This is giving rise to an increasing demand for ‘e-leaders’ – who need to master both company management skills and expertise in the ICT field. “However, the gap between demand and supply of qualified e-leaders is widening in Europe,” warned Nils Olaya Fonstad, Associate Director of the INSEAD eLab, at a recent conference on the subject hosted by the G9+ Institute, an organisation representing 50,000 digital professionals. The challenge facing many company bosses nowadays is to be able adapt their leadership approach to the new rules and new codes of the digital era.
A T-shaped portfolio of skills
“First of all, e-leadership doesn’t just mean you own the latest version of the iPhone, nor that you have computer programming skills,” stressed Nils Olaya Fonstad. E-leaders need a T-shaped portfolio of skills, i.e. vertical as well as horizontal. On the horizontal plane, company top management must be capable of building relations across boundaries, managing change and developing a global strategic vision, and also able to experiment and innovate. On the vertical axis, they must have among their skillsets ICT expertise, product expertise and customer-relations expertise. “True e-leaders should for instance be right up-to-date on the company’s latest investment in Information and Communication technology, and must be able to grasp not only the economic and managerial benefits which it will bring but also the potential risks,” underlined Dr Olaya Fonstad.
Making use of social networks
At the same time, the use of social networks has become an integral part of the an e-leader’s role, as evidenced by Pascal Dasseux, COO of Havas Media, who explained: “I use Twitter as a ‘smart filter’ so that I only spend time on information that really interests me.” Alexandre Matsch, founder and CEO of Melty Group – a ‘news network aimed at Generation Y’ – said that he had even agreed business contracts with shareholders on the social networks. “We’re increasingly moving towards multi-channel communication, and social networks will become essential collaboration tools in the same way as old-fashioned messaging has been,” he predicted. Moreover, on his personal Facebook page, Matsch’s subscribers regularly see posts relating to his private life. “People who are interested in the Melty adventure might also be interested in my own personal story, which helps to give a human face to the company I co-founded,” he explains. Opinions on this approach might however vary.