The social network connects us but we are very disconnected. We have collaboration strategies that go well beyond what we ever imagined yet we struggle to find ways to work together. We have more physical technology to keep us together than ever before but the webcam isn’t a replacement for the conference room.
I only blog once a week but I write all week on various websites, twitter, and various social media outlets. What I find that people respond to is when I write about something that struck me emotionally. While this is my personal observation from content that I generate, I also find that when other people write or say something controversial is when there is a large response or more participation. In other words, we are always seeking that shock value and today because things are not shocking anymore we are becoming more and more numb.
This behavior isn’t seeping into the workplace, it has flooded the workplace. Instead of the cold and shocking text or facebook post, it is in a cold and shocking email. I have personally witnessed this behavior and I have seen people waiting for the reaction to their emails or messages after they hit the send button. I have even found myself looking for the response to messages that I had sent professionally knowing full well that they would not be well received. The underlying problem is that these behaviors are pervasive and they are infecting all of us.
Take the Trolley Experiment which essentially asks a variety of questions based on the scenario that five lives may be worth more than one life. There are variants where questions are raised about who the five people are versus the one person.
“Suppose that a judge or magistrate is faced with rioters demanding that a culprit be found for a certain crime and threatening otherwise to take their own bloody revenge on a particular section of the community. The real culprit being unknown, the judge sees himself as able to prevent the bloodshed only by framing some innocent person and having him executed. Beside this example is placed another in which a pilot whose aeroplane is about to crash is deciding whether to steer from a more to a less inhabited area. To make the parallel as close as possible it may rather be supposed that he is the driver of a runaway tram which he can only steer from one narrow track on to another; five men are working on one track and one man on the other; anyone on the track he enters is bound to be killed. In the case of the riots the mob have five hostages, so that in both the exchange is supposed to be one man’s life for the lives of five.” Philippa Foot
How does this relate to social behaviors and leadership?
The well-connected “disconnected” person doesn’t see, hear, feel or physically interact with most of the people he or she is connected with. I am simply saying that in relation to the trolley problem the well-connected “disconnected” person doesn’t do anything to change the situation and/or may not even get involved at all.
How does this apply to you?
Have you been watching the political debates? The common phrase is “the American people want x.” Leadership is plugged in to what they think “WE THE PEOPLE” want or at least they say that they are but if you look at their behavior they are not connected. How about at work? How connected is your bosses boss to you? What does your leadership know about you or care? If you look at the top of the chain they believe they are connected with you but really they are disconnected. The result of this behavior and this situation is that they don’t care. I am not saying this to be hostile, it is simply the truth. You are either a series of numbers or letters to them. Part of this connected disconnect is disenabling. This also shows itself with immediate leadership buried in their emails, power point briefs, slide builds or meetings. They are working on the next big problem or challenge fully consumed in whatever it is but they are disconnected from you. The true result of this disconnect is that they trolley problem winds up being not just a problem from the five or the one individually but the six holistically. In other words, the result of being disconnected is that everyone suffers.
Declining leadership is a direct result of being disconnected. Meaningless trivial meetings take place where most people leave frustrated. Even good leaders feel disenchanted and powerless. (Oh, Howie you are just exaggerating.) Really? If any of what I said is familiar to you, I must be onto something. Don’t get me wrong, bad leadership has been around since there have been leaders but what I am talking about here is something more than that. Essentially because we are so very disconnected, the boundaries of unethical and immoral behavior are widening. There is an increase in how people care about or feel about one another because they aren’t interacting. In the Bruce Willis movie Surrogates people weren’t leaving their homes and sending out robots as physical avatars. What I am talking about is actually worse than that because we aren’t even in a situation where avatars are physically representing what we are feeling or saying. This is a text-based problem. Intent and context does not convey without additional elaboration. Passion and inflection do not convey unless the writer is a master of words. Even then it is the reader’s internal voice that delivers the messages. Leadership is declining through this communicative failure and breakdown.
What can you do about it?
I think we have to lead from where we are. In other words, we must individually take responsibility and take on the additional role of leader. When given a chance to interact with each other physically, we need to take this opportunity to lead and understand when to follow. We need to take the opportunities we have when we have them to interact and study the people we work with. We should try to learn more about who they are and pay attention to the details. While Dunbar’s number suggests that we can manage about 150 relationships we have easily exceeded this number with Facebook, Linkedin, Myspace, yourSpace, etc. We need to clearly take into consideration the relationships that we can add the most positive value in and actively participate as best we can.
It is our individual responsibility to do good in the world.