Leading in the Digital Age


In today’s digital economy, organizations are decentralized – that is, power to make decisions is spread out among different people. What’s more, the pace of change is so blindingly fast that leaders rarely have the luxury of making decisions with careful deliberation. Finally unlike traditional workers, many of today’s employees demand independence and autonomy. In short, they are reluctant to be led in the traditional sense of having someone tell them precisely what to do.

As you might imagine, these considerations have important implications for the way today’s dot-com leaders are required to operate. Some of the most important implications of the internet economy for leadership are as follows (Greenberg, 2005; Labarre, 1999):

1.) Growth occurs so quickly that strategies have to be change constantly. For example, Meg Whitman, now CEO of Hewlett-Packard, says that while she was at eBay the company grew so rapidly (often 40 to 50 percent each quarter) that it became an entirely different company every few months (Lashinky, 2003). Leaders cannot take anything for granted, except the fact that whatever they decided to do yesterday may need to be changed tomorrow.

2.) Leaders of technology companies are not expected to have all the answers. The highly technical nature of the business and the rapid pace of change make it impossible for just one or two people to make all the right decisions. According to Jonathan Buckley, retired CEO of Barnesandnoble.com, today’s leaders “must be evangelists for changing the system, not preserving it.”

3.) Showing restraint is critical. There are so many opportunities available to technology companies today that executives can too easily enter into a bad deal. For example Andrew Jarecki, cofounder and CEO of Moviefone, Inc., ignored the many suggestions he received  to go into business with a big portal before agreeing to what proved to be the right deal – acquisition by AOL for $386 million in stock (Greenberg, 2005).

4.) Hiring and retaining the right people is more important than ever. In the world of the internet and technology, the average tenure of a senior executive is only 18 months. Constant change means that the people who are hired for today’s jobs must meet demands of tomorrow’s jobs as well. As Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com puts it, “You’ve got to hire ahead of the curve,” adding, “If you wait until you’re actually doing [as much business as you expect] to hire the necessary talent, then you’ll be too late” (Labarre, 1999).

5.) Today’s leaders must not take anything for granted. When Mark Cuban and his partner founded Broadcast.com (before selling it to Yahoo! four years later for $5.7 billion), they made lots of incorrect decisions. Instead of sticking to them, they quickly adjusted their game plan to fit the realities they faced (Greenberg, 2005).

6.) Leaders in technology must focus on real-time decision making. Traditional leader were trained to gather lots of data before making carefully researched decisions. According to Ruthann Quidlen, partner in Institutional Venture Partners, leaders can no longer afford to do so: “If your instinct is to wait, ponder, and perfect, then you’re dead…leaders have to hit the undo key without flinching” (Labarre, 1999).


Greenberg, J. (2005). Managing behavior in organizations. Pearson Prentice Hall.

Labarre, P (1999). Unit of one: Leaders.com. Fast company, pp 95-98, 100, 102, 104, 108, 110, 112.

Lashinsky, A. (2003). Meg and the machine. Fortune, pp 68-72, 76, 78.



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