The New Tools of Leadership

By Holly Macdonald

It would be easy to dismiss tools as faddish, but what they really represent is a radically different ecosystem for leaders. The separation between internal and external is fading rapidly and trends towards openness and collaboration are not limited to the world of technology. They are societal shifts that make a leader’s job especially challenging.

Gone are the days when leaders could rely on command and control.  21st century leaders need new skills to steward their organizations in today’s complex, tumultuous business environment.  In an era where information is shared widely, freely and publicly, they also need new tools.

As an innovator in the training industry, I recently sat down with learning leader Dan Pontefract, senior director and head of learning at TELUS (tens of thousands of employees, multiple locations), to discuss his views on leadership as it relates to tools, technologies and attitudes.

For an alternate perspective, I also sat down with David Norget, HR manager at Salt Spring Coffee Company (80 employees, 6 separate retail/corporate/production locations). Here are excerpts of both of conversations.

Q: Do you think that today’s leaders require different skills or attitudes?

Dan Pontefract: Absolutely, and both. MIT’s Tom Malone said it best in his book entitled “The Future of Work” where he described the workforce shifting from ‘command and control’ to a ‘cultivate and coordinate’ attitude. In essence, we’re entering a period in which collaborative thinking combined with technological advances and more flexibility in work schedules are creating the perfect leadership storm. Leaders need both a fresh new attitude, as well as augmented skills to properly address the professional and societal changes upon us.

David Norget:
I think yesterday’s leaders required them, though perhaps didn’t always have them: the ability to foster relationships and bring forth one’s own passion, draw the same out of others and steward these in thoughtful and caring ways. There need be the ability to tend to the process, as well as the goal and adjust on the fly. Also, the ability to hold an emotional pulse on the organization, society, team…as some examples.

Q: What is different or has changed for leaders of today versus the past?

DP: I suppose I would argue what hasn’t changed. For example, there are huge environmental issues in our world resulting in a push for fewer vehicles on the road which then translates to companies adopting more flexible work arrangements. How do leaders of yesterday adjust to less face time with their team of today?

Secondly, a general perception was that leaders of yesterday came up with the ideas, the actions and the drive for innovation. Leaders of today and tomorrow are recognizing, through concepts such as collective and emotional intelligence, that having all the answers actually isn’t a good thing for morale, retention, innovation, or results.

Thirdly, the entire Web and Enterprise 2.0 spectrum of technologies now creeping into the physical or virtual office is causing many people leaders to rethink their style, as well as their own aptitude for change.

DN: I think it’s primarily the people they are leading or serving. Consumers and staff are less willing to put up with anything. This has expressed itself in people having multiple careers as an example. I know for myself that I am less willing to put up with certain things. This has meant truly engaging with people and who they are, what they desire etc. The abilities I mention above are all essential for doing this.

Q: What role does technology play for today’s organizational leaders?

DP: Technology can become the great enabler of a collaborative team culture, if used correctly and wisely. Whether you work for a small company, medium or large-sized, leaders need to begin using various Enterprise 2.0 technologies to break down some of the perceived or real cultural barriers between the leader and the team itself. Technology can help assist with this in many ways, but it also can bring a team together, to not only help with morale and team spirit, but to drive actions in a more expeditious manner. Technology considerations can ultimately help with overall team communication, input and what I like to think of as the ‘idea factory’ principle.

Whiteboard brainstorming sessions in person are fabulous. However, imagine if you took this concept and extended it over a technology solution? The amount of collaboration that takes place, over a longer period of time, could ultimately germinate idea seeds that never would have been found in the standalone session itself.

DN: Technology has the ability to aid on all fronts…it has the ability to simplify and enrich one’s approach.

Q: How do you use technologies & tools as a leader?

DP: <laughing> I think I was born with a technology chip in my head. Our team uses the technology first and foremost to ensure we are a connected, collaborative and communicative team of equal minds striving to push our team-established goals forward, collectively and consistently.

We use wikis to share ideas, learn, publish, etc. We use blogging and micro-blogging to speak our minds, pass useful information, learn, etc. We use videos to verbally get a point across, share a learning nugget, inform, etc. We use discussion forums, polling and surveys to gather opinion and further insight. We utilize Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and OneNote to enable other ways in which collaboration needs to occur through documents, discussions, etc. We use web conferencing and virtual world technologies to address distance gaps.

In summary, if there is an Enterprise 2.0 technology, we’re probably using it and being role models at TELUS as the way in which all teams and leaders should operate.

Q: What’s in your toolkit?

DP: Well, there are two leadership Dans really; internal Dan at TELUS and external Dan. Internal Dan utilizes any of the tools and technologies at his disposal including blogs, wikis, video system, micro-blogging, web conferencing, virtual world technology and collaboration portals to both lead and be a part of the TELUS team. External Dan is also a leader in many ways, and utilizes different online forums, Twitter (@dpontefract), WordPress blog, Yammer, YouTube, real-time chats, etc. to continue learning and being a part of the 2.0 world. Oh, and I don’t believe in offices so I’m a mobile worker that carries around a laptop, webcam, mobile phone and stainless steel mug. It’s all I need.

DN: We have a company wiki (Pbwiki) that is continually updated by any number of people. We utilize email, text messaging, skype and phone for ongoing communication. We have web-based project management tools (Basecamp and Workzone) to ensure details are not being lost. We have just reloaded our website, including email queries, blog opportunities and more.

For more top-tech thought leadership, visit Holly Macdonald at or Dan Pontefract at

Some intriguing reading:
Open Leadership by Charlene Li –
Talent is Everything, based on the book “From Push to Pull

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Category: PeopleTalk, Technology, Voice & Vision

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