Digital Leadership in the New Century

Digital Leadership in the New Century

Viktor Wang (Florida Atlantic University, USA) and Geraldine Torrisi-Steele (Griffith University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch012
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The emergence of information and communication technologies have impacted greatly on organizations and subsequently their leaders. The virtual context in which many leaders now operate both provides opportunities and poses challenges. The virtual environment, demands that leaders develop some different practices but this is not to say that traditional leadership has no place in the new virtual environment. Rather, the traditional leadership theories and leadership styles studied previously conceptualized by researchers and scholars enhances electronic leadership (e-leadership). E-leadership is supported by Rogers' facilitative leadership. It is important to realize that leadership theories are not ideologies that must be followed to the letter but rather that leadership theories can be applied in part or in whole. In the present chapter the authors consider the relevance of existing leadership theories to e-leadership, highlight the impact of technologies on leadership practice, and raise discussion around e-leadership challenges, and key e-leadership skills.
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Without a doubt, among all of the developments in the past century, technology has perhaps played one of the most significant roles in reshaping the world. Technology has permeated society in general, and major government and economic stakeholders have recognized the importance of incorporating technology throughout education in order to prepare a competitive workforce in a global economy (Farmer, 2011, p. 230). The United Statesused to have the largest number of Internet users. To date, the number of Internet users (179.7 million) in China has surpassed that of the United States (163.3 million) now (Schonfeld, 2009). The emergence of new communication technologies and the pervasiveness of connectivity has enabled changes in the way we work and learn. Among other things, information and communication technologies facilitate telecommuting. About 40 percent of the workforce in the United States telecommute from home to their workplaces (Chafkin, 2010), and slightly more than 2% of the U.S. employee workforce (2.8 million people, not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers) consider home their primary place of work (Lister, 2010) . According to the Gallup’s annual Work and Education poll, conducted on August 5-9 2015, 9% of U.S. workers say they telecommute on average more than 10 working days per month – that’s about half of workdays in the month, and 37% of workers say that they have telecommuted, this is up from the 30% in the last decade, and four times greater than the 9% found in 1995. ( The aforementioned statistics clearly indicated that there is significant and growing engagement in online environments for both business and education. What is the implication of this? One clear implication is that E-leadership is important and necessary in the new century, and thus researchers and scholars are prompted to re-examine leadership and leadership styles in relation to E-leadership.

Interestingly, when the literature about leadership and leadership styles is examined it seems that, despite the changes in technological developments and the changes in how we work and learn in the digital context, the literature has remained relatively unchanged in the 21st century. Leadership has been a topic of interest to researchers and scholars. Leadership and leadership styles have been studied for many years. Leadership has been well and deeply considered. Various Leadership theories have been put forward and have been tested in varying situations in different countries. For example, leadership theories by Karl Marx have been applied to countries such as the former Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and Cuba. Have these leadership theories worked for these countries? The answer is to a certain degree, yes. The answer can also be leadership theories are not ideologies that must be applied to the letter. Leadership theories can be applied in part or in whole, or they can be modified based on differing situations. Speaking of situations and circumstances, major economic developments from newly emerged nations and technological break-through coupled with the most recent wars in West Asia and in the Middle East have reshaped the world. They have changed the way people work, think, and, above all, react to leadership theories.

Although the definitions of leadership are many and varied, at its core leadership is about human behavior and activity, which is innately complex. Predictably then, leadership is a complex topic. Decades of research and numerous studies have failed to yield a generally accepted, singular theory of leadership – testament to the complexity of leader behavior (Weitzel, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Theory X: Theory X refers to a set of assumptions that theory X persons may possess. People who are considered theory X persons inherently dislike work and will avoid it if they can. Because of this characteristically human dislike of work, most people must be coerced, controlled, threatened in the interest of organizational objectives. Leaders must change their roles when dealing with theory X persons. Now their roles should be that of directors or coaches. These two roles work best with theory X persons in today’s organizations.

E-Leadership: E means electronic in this article. E-leadership refers to leadership in the new era, namely the information age which is characterized by fast development of technology, a global economy where businesses constantly move across borders to wherever they can make a profit. Leadership is needed to fix many of the problems created by the information age.

Facilitative Leadership: This kind of leadership trust and respect followers. It believes that followers have unlimited resources to contribute to an organization. Therefore, followers’ values and beliefs should be respected and released. This kind of leadership involves followers in the planning process in order to bring out followers’ energy and expertise. It is used in the article to contrast with authoritarian leadership.

Synergism: It comes from the word, synergy which means the extra energy, power, or capability produced by combining two or more agents, operations, or processes. Great leaders are interested in bringing out the synergies of their followers by setting a direction for followers and motivating their followers. The process of great leaders doing this is called synergism.

Tenets: A tenet is a principle, axiom in a set of beliefs. Setting direction and motivating followers are the basic tenets of leadership.

Leadership: The act of one person directing others. In this article, leadership is defined as coping with change whereas management is defined as coping with complexity. Some people have the capacity to become good managers but not strong leaders. Likewise others have great leadership, but have difficulty becoming strong managers. Today’s organizations value both kinds of people and work hard to make them a part of their teams. Some scholars consider leadership an art while others consider it a science. According to this article, the effective and successful leadership is the one that copes with change based on followers’ need for direction and need for support. The roles of leaders are such that they must change in order to meet the current and future needs of their followers. If leadership focuses on task only, it is no good; it leadership focuses on people only, it is no good. Good leadership always strives to strike a balance between structure and consideration as implied in the article.

Quadrants: A quadrant is a quarter of a circle. For example, a circle has four quadrants.

Volatile: Originally, this word means “explosive.” However, in this article, it is used figuratively, meaning unstable, likely to produce change or harm. In this context, global competition is often volatile. Leadership is needed to cope with change.

Charisma: It refers to the attractiveness of a person for others; charm and appeal. Followers may be willing to obey charismatic leaders’ order without their presence. However, when these leaders make wrong decisions or when they die, chaos may appear.

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