Money Matters

Digital leadership

By Sirajuddin Aziz
Mon, 04, 24

Perhaps any thought that finds its initiation about leadership that doesn’t hold “values” in esteem is a non-starter. That’s the view of a positive mindset. However, inconceivable, yet prevalent is the reality, where values are eternally divorced with leadership across societies, cultures and many geographies across the world.

Digital leadership

Perhaps any thought that finds its initiation about leadership that doesn’t hold “values” in esteem is a non-starter. That’s the view of a positive mindset. However, inconceivable, yet prevalent is the reality, where values are eternally divorced with leadership across societies, cultures and many geographies across the world.

Until two score years back, nobody could imagine to lead a public life, without combining in their persona, both values and education. It is only when these two elements survive in complete harmony in a person, that the real leader emerges.

History chronicles many “illiterate” leaders of whom, some achieved success and greatness, because they were men of wisdom and possessed native intelligence.

But as human history has progressed this version of leadership is almost close to extinction, barring few countries of the South Asian sub continent. To achieve the status of being a “parliamentarian" there is no pre-condition of any bare or minimum educational qualifications, like a college or university degree. One has to be just an "electable". An attempt was made a few years back to make undergraduate degree as a minimum requirement to becoming a member of the parliament. Those who work unceasingly to ensure that the parliament largely remains innocent of education, so that it can submit with subservience to all, shot down or may be they revoked the requirement. The requirement had almost zero shelf life.

Values and education, irrespective of the arena of leadership, are essential constituents that go towards moulding and building character. Holding any office in the public sector, inclusive of the government or private sector domain doesn’t bestow the acknowledgment of being recognised as leader, if values and education are lacking. Meritocracy and character move in tandem … where these are ‘at tangent’, corruption, in all its forms and manifestations finds for itself permanent residence. If the onset of this malaise remains unaddressed or unattended, then it seeps through all the layers and cervices of the organisation, society and the nation. Character takes a back seat. What comes forward is the power of ill gotten wealth, power and pelf. However, this inflicts long term damage. The demonic strength of the powerful and illiterate can never be underestimated.

A leader's character is not judged by merely their actions but more so by the internal makeup of their thought process. If the pool of thought is murky, no action can be clean and pure. A political scientist of repute, James Q Wilson has been quoted by Henry Kissinger, in the context of leadership that has in its attendance, virtues and solid character. Wilson elaborates this vein of thought in the following words: “Habits of moderate action, more specifically, acting with due restraint on one’s impulses, due regard for the rights of others, and a remarkable concern for distant consequences".

Indeed, given our own environment covering politics, business, industry and commerce, these requirements which must be invoiced as essentials of leadership, sounds almost utopian. Restraint is unknown, impulsive behaviour, responses and actions are at their zenith; regard for others stands disregarded, and the ultimate consequences of such actions and attitude remains an area of no concern or attention. These elements do not necessarily apply only to political office holders, but in equal measure, or possibly more, these apply to the private corporate entities, too.

Is character important for business or otherwise too of any type of leadership? The obvious answer by all and sundry, would be a vehement and emphatic “yes”. Good character is not a sure recipe for attaining overnight or even over an extended period any guaranteed success; however, what it does achieve over long term is that it brings down the magnitude of nepotism and gives rise to meritocracy, even if it be slow and gradual, it offers an assurance that the entity (you can read country too, here) is in the right direction. Educated CEO’s, blessed with sound grounding in seeking and developing “values” assures that success will be handled with modesty and humility, while failure will be celebrated too, in view of the lessons learnt, that are recorded, for better future planning and to make sure, the mis-steps are not repeated.

Corporate values and individual characters are influenced by the values of the global society. It would be inappropriate to remark that work ethics, diplomacy and other related actions, which arise out of culture, would in isolation render the institution a unique status. The impact of civilisation upon general habits do not entitle, for any set of people to make a judgment call, of which is better work culture between two opposing civilisations. The distinctive work ethics of the Orient and the West is a case in point.

Sound and universally valid for centuries, "values" are passing through a violent metamorphosis of change. The unthinkable is enacted with impunity and the unacceptable is gaining traction of approval. Many characteristics which until recently would have been considered inappropriate are acquiring ready acceptance.

Business organisations are faced with disappearing boundaries of operations. A person in Gujranwala can be an employee of an organisation based in say Ireland, without having to relocate to Dublin. The interface through technology doesn’t provide for full understanding of each other’s cultures; consequently the bad is taken as good and good is taken as bad. The ready availability of live technology platforms allow for work to be done, at own pace and with self imposed schedules, both strict and liberal, depending upon the nature of work. The physical interface between the supervisor and the supervised is becoming a thing of the past … video links aren’t a replacement for meeting face to face. Human interaction is getting limited in scope, taking a toll upon culture and values.

These limitations make it extremely difficult to make opinions on character and personality. Standardised conversations between managers and teams as done in the past, are now prone to be classified as intrusions into personal space; in extreme situations those can be rendered as a case of harassment.

In Portugal and many other countries of the Western Europe, no manager is allowed to contact, via any medium, their teammates outside the defined office hours; any violations are subject to legal action, involving punitive penalties. The managers there are going through the acceptance process of this change in management practices, owing to greater awareness of rights, inclusive of harassment. Defining harassment is difficult … it is not constricted, infact its expanse is wide as oceans. Leadership is expected to be cognisant and conscious of these new demands upon it.

In our local business environment, can any even dare to talk back to the employer, who regularly and daringly intrudes into their personal time and space, at the oddest of times. The inappropriate is appropriate for the management or the owner. Any protest will lead to being shown the door. WhatsApp as a medium of communication is abused by supervisors.

The perils of the lighting speed of improvements in technology are being ignored due to its sheer speed of affecting everyday lives. The dependency on gadgets is only growing. The growth and application of AI in business is driving managers up the creek. Big Data analytics, is a tool, all managers today have to be abreast of. The business dynamics based on available algorithms of all sorts demand the presence of an educated, intelligent and forward looking manager/leader.

Ethical values are under threat too at the business level … data breaches and compromises are costly lapses. The business world has accepted the need and existence of ethical hackers … by the way, I need to point out that ethical hacking is not the same as ‘malicious hacking’; the former are security experts who evaluate security protocols of the technology platforms in use, by legally breaking into computer networks, to carry out tests of vulnerability of cyber attacks; while the later is unauthorised entry into the computers, for immoral reasons of stealing information. A kind of industrial espionage.

The requirement of today’s leadership is to have a full grasp of the analytical tools for developing future strategies; this has to be achieved without compromising values and character.

The CEO of the present era has to be aware of the benefits of technology related to his/her business, they don’t have to be experts, but must possess basic knowledge of the availability of the various tools or at least have the intelligence to gather around a team that is well versed in technology.

Leadership will continue to be judged by its ability to respond to challenges; by its foresight to avert crises and by its adherence to highest standards of governance and compliance.

Technological advancement and social progress must remain in step with each other. No computer can do the work of one extraordinary person (read leader). This basic truth must reign supreme while advocating for adopting technologies, both in the civilian world and the universe of military operations.

Alexander Chase wrote in the 'Perspectives', "when a machine begins to run without human aid, it is time to scrap it --- whether it be a factory or the government". This was written in 1966. No technology can work without human intervention and aid … it is after all natural intelligence that facilitates the growth of AI.

As a beginning, there is a need for the CEO and the CIO to speak in a language they both understand. In most institutions today, they speak to each other in English, which is Latin, to both.

The art and science of using technology must be built upon strong ethical principles, values and standards. This will ensure the development of leadership that is of character.

The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist.