In Southern homes, a momma might say, “I brought you into this world, don’t make me take you out of it!” Even if one is not from the South, you can hear momma’s frustration. What might be less obvious is the correlation to our current situation. Contact with another human brought you into this world and some are starting to wonder if the lack of it will take us out. In this new normal, we receive texts by the dozen and have phones forever buzzing. Sales calls are done through virtual meetings and employee coaching is through a phone call, uncomfortable screen sharing, or just doesn’t happen. Logistically, each option requires a wi-fi connection. Mentally, we can’t dare disconnect or we might miss something. Emotionally, we’re suffering.
Yes, technology has given new ways to share information. But when we’re connected to any of them, are we really connecting to a human? And if we lose that kind of connection, is our literal future threatened? Even before an ending that sounds so dramatic, consider how we are to accomplish what should be simple, such as fostering motivation, drive, progress, or leadership. Each has relied on live human interaction since the words came into existence. The words were even made with the assumption that being in the presence of another human would always be the situation. So, in a world that’s gone virtual, artificial, or robotic, shouldn’t we consider how drive, progress, and leadership might be taken out of the equation?
Computers have settings. Humans have ambitions. Drive comes about only in the latter. Until you can encourage your laptop to perform better with a quick pat of the power button or get your sonar machine to read just a bit more deeply by talking softly and asking nicely, finding drive among the digital might be tricky. But even more tricky is reaching, encouraging, or even motivating people through a medium that fools you into thinking you can interact with them like they have specific settings. How do you reach over his shoulder and encourage that employee to do better, through a computer?
Drive is what fosters progress, and it can be internally or externally motivated, but for most, by people more so than devices. Are you tracking the efforts of field workers through Fitbits? Found anyone who’s attached it to their dog yet? A drive-by can solve this. A person checking on them tends to prevent gaming the system. Fleet management, GPS, and tracking have all become normal in business, but there is a sizable difference between tracking and making progress. Tracking gives you the data. Progress is most often fostered by conversation, follow-up, rewards and/or consequences. How many of those are you having via app, system, or virtual meeting?
Similar sizable differences are found in the roles of leader and manager. Go virtual and you need more management. Managing supplies, equipment, and quotas can be done from home. Leadership, and nearly all the aspects of it, requires a genuine connection with the person and that’s tough to create in a virtual environment when using face-to-face methods. It’s as if we believe we can lead while using management tactics. Imagine trying to dig a pipe trench with the long end of a handheld calculator. Could you do it? Sure. But you’d be there forever, get beyond frustrated, and probably utter, “screw this” at some point, wishing you could go rent a trencher. If only there were real people to open a store to serve live customers with specific trench size questions, who would listen and share a moment over how hard that must have been and what were you thinking? Think your team does better with rapport, humor, connections, and live people interaction? Most would say yes.
The way we’ve always achieved these outcomes, in the face of this new normal, isn’t really working and if we don’t make some changes, the reality is that pandemic or no pandemic, our virtual world and lack of human contact may just be what forces drive, progress, and real leadership to face extinction. Maybe instead of sending that next text, put on your mask, hop in the truck and go see that customer. Look them in the eyes and tell him or her how you are going to work out that deal or fix that problem. It’ll be a long while before robots can make that happen.
Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist, keynote speaker, and executive coach. For more information on her books, training firm or coaching services, call 1-866-382-0121, or go to www.ContagiousCompanies.com.
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