Undergraduate Management Research Paper

Title: Leadership and technology: The case of the role and challenges of executive leadership in technology-driven firms

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Executive summary

The purpose of this report is to explore the role that executive leaders plays in leveraging technological capabilities in technology-driven firms. This theme arises from the realization that executive leaders continue to encounter numerous challenges in the face of rapid technological changes, increased competition at the global level, emergence of start-up companies with new competitive advantages that revolutionize the existing markets, and the need to adopt new leadership behavior in the management of firms. To achieve this purpose, the paper is divided into five sections. First, the role of executive leaders is examined. The second section looks at the challenges that executive leaders encounter in efforts to acquire technology –related skills are analyzed. The third section highlights the need for strategy-focused leadership in technology-driven organizations. Fourthly, the concept of technology as an enabler of global strategy is reviewed. The last section investigates the importance of IT competency among executive leaders.

Contents

Executive summary. 2

Introduction. 3

The role of executive leaders in technology-driven firms. 3

The challenge of the acquisition of technology –related skills among executive leaders. 5

The need for strategy-focused leadership in technology-driven organizations. 7

Technology as an enabler of a global strategy and the mediating role of leadership. 9

Importance of IT (Information Technology) competency among executive leaders. 12

Conclusion. 13

References. 14

 

Introduction

Leadership is a critical component of success in all organizations. In today’s information age, technology plays a special role in determining organizational success. However, such success cannot be achieved without proper leadership. This explains the relevance of the theme of leadership and technology. Much of the available literature on leadership focuses on supervisory- and middle- level managers (MacNeil, 2004; Huy, 2002). In technology-driven firms, the role of executive leadership is even more critical, hence the need to subject it to an in-depth investigation. The aim of this report is to highlight the role of executive leadership in technology-driven firms.

The role of executive leaders in technology-driven firms

Executive leaders have a critical role to play in technology-driven firms. They establish a connection between people, technology, and processes to bring about excellence in performance. Rapid advances continue to occur in the world of technology, hence the need to come up with ways of enhancing leadership skills of the existing business leaders. This goal must be pursued alongside that of looking for new ways of using emerging technologies to enhance stakeholder value.

To succeed in harnessing the optimal value of technology, leaders must adopt certain behaviors and tactics. They must be ready to face numerous challenges relating to the growing popularity of virtual work environments. For instance, it has become the norm for companies to maintain an online division for sale of products to the global market. This necessitates the acquisition of skills for managing virtual teams on the part of executive leaders. At this level, one of the greatest challenges is that it is extremely difficult to differentiate between the traditional workplace and the virtual work environment. This difference can best be explained by recognizing these environments as two ends of a continuum. This is simply because in most cases, companies that maintain the traditional workplace set-up have also started augmenting it with an online presence in efforts to reach out to a larger market.

A major challenge for many firms today is that technology changes and shifting market dynamics are unfolding at a very fast pace. In many instances busy executive leaders are compelled to “play catch-up” to stay abreast of emerging technology-driven business practices. In some cases, these leaders miss out on crucial technological upgrades altogether, thereby leading to technophobia. Such a phenomenon, if not addressed on time, may stall growth in the post-modern business organization.

Moreover, the contemporary business environment is complex and highly tumultuous, yet companies must continue using technology to succeed in establishing a competitive edge. Executive leaders are expected to be not just professionally competent but also strategy-focused. These demands are often accompanied by the need for a wealth of experience on a variety of issues. This way, the leaders are likely to feel that they are in a better position to guide and motivate followers to yield the desired organizational outcomes. They may feel more confident about the decisions that they make regarding the selection and development of employees. Other activities that can easily be undertaken successfully against the backdrop of such competencies include goal-setting, introduction of rewards, and the entrenchment of resource utilization systems based changes in the industry.

 

 

The challenge of the acquisition of technology –related skills among executive leaders

Today, platforms for learning in the world of technology keep changing and one may not be quite sure which things to learn and which ones not to. Moreover, stable learning platforms have not yet been established because of the highly dynamic nature of technology. Many of the existing learning platforms that executive leaders are highly likely to rely on are on the edge of obsolescence. Yet these leaders are expected to be the pacesetters of the organization’s technological integration efforts by virtue of their status as the most crucial source of inspiration, strategic direction, and motivation for employees.

The current technology is built on shifting sands and technologies companies are yet to come up with standard frames of reference. Instead, they are still scrambling for space in the current technological spectrum. Product ranges will keep changing until such a time when such standards have been established and a framework for introducing new technologies outlined. The objective of this framework will be to compel innovators to ensure that they design new technologies in such a way that older technologies are not rendered obsolete. As major victims of this technological volatility, executive leaders often find themselves struggling to keep up with new technological trends.

A leader who lacks the requisite technology skills may not succeed in mobilizing executive support in technology issues no matter how willing he might be to attain this goal. This is simply because he may lack the necessary knowledge and experience for creating an implementation roadmap, which is always a critical element of technological adoption and integration. For any viable implementation map to be created, efforts must be made to determine what kind of executive support is appropriate for the organization. Moreover, the perceptions of senior management towards different information technology activities must always be put into consideration.

No standard practice is yet to be established for providing information technology training to executive leaders. In the meantime, a lot is being done to examine the behaviors of chief executive officers in relation to technology adoption (Hoppe, 2002). Industry handbooks are full of useful information on ways of providing relevant and regular technology training to top organizational leaders (Woiceshyn & Daellenbach, 2005). In these sources of information, emphasis is on activities that influence executive involvement, which in itself is essentially a psychological state (Woiceshyn & Daellenbach, 2005). Once this psychological state has been changed towards embracement of technology, it becomes possible for firms to use technology aggressively to leverage their competitive advantages (Woiceshyn & Daellenbach, 2005).

The area of management information systems has particularly been of great interest in studies on the role of leadership and technology adoption (Graebner, 2004; Mumford, Zaccaro & Harding, 2000). It is extremely difficult for technology to be integrated in a contemporary business organization if executive leaders of such an organization have no understanding of management information systems. A successful initiative aimed at integrating these systems into the organization must begin with the proactive role of the chief executive officer. The officer must take personal interest, which obviously emerges out of an in-depth understanding of how the information systems work. The executive leader must have learnt about the wide range of advantages that an information system can bring to the organization. Moreover, it goes without that such an understanding is essential in the CEO’s goal of hiring the most competent and talented specialists. At the same time, such a leader can easily succeed in facilitating seamless communication between technical staff and “line” personnel. After all, the non-technical employees are ultimately the ones who become the day-to-day users of the new systems.

The need for strategy-focused leadership in technology-driven organizations

Strategy-focused leadership is required for technology-driven organizations to succeed in their core businesses. The top management must take an active stance in guiding and shaping trends in terms of the role of business technology in facilitating the attainment of goals. Technology issues are too important to be left in the hands of technical experts. These experts may not know about the plans in place within the organization to use technology as a strategic weapon for attaining specific goals.

In many cases, technology is often used to facilitate proper handling, dissemination, and use of information. Information is always a strategic resource for an organization. The manner in which it is handled may be a determinant of success in the long run. Therefore, there is a growing need for executive leaders to become informed and engaged in the adoption of all information systems within the organization as one of the most important steps in efforts to chart the strategic direction of the organization.

Strategic leadership encompasses a number of issues apart from determining strategic direction. These issues include defining and maintaining core competencies, sustaining effectiveness in organizational culture, developing human capital, and establishing balance in all organizational controls. In all these components, the task of actual strategy formulation takes center stage. The indication here is that a successful strategic leader is one who focuses primarily on formulating strategy. However, in strategy-focused leadership, focus is not entirely on strategy formulation; rather, it is on what effective executive leaders actually do in efforts to transform a firm in a strategy-focused organization particularly in the realm of technology adoption.

In a strategy-focused organization, the core message must be put across. The strategy must be disseminated across the organization and the leader must lead the way in this undertaking by identifying the right people and assigning them various roles. The resulting organizational framework must have the capacity to handle technological issues in today’s highly dynamic information age. This calls for renewed efforts by employees to weave different technologies around the existing social, economic, and intellectual resources of the organization. Such an activity must be entrenched into the firm as part of ongoing changes in organizational culture. If properly executed, such technology adoption strategies should bring about a positive impact on the overall performance of the organization.

Efforts to leverage technology to increase competitiveness must be a priority area for an executive leader. Once a leader becomes technologically savvy by acquiring a blend of skills, experience, and competences, he should be able to use technology successfully as a tool for empowering his followers to execute the strategy of the organization. For example, through access to appropriate management information systems, employees can be empowered to turn data into crucial information. This information can then be converted into knowledge for the business organization. Such a knowledge-based approach to strategic management is of utmost relevance in today’s information age. It enables organizations pursue excellence based on empirical results on industry trends and market realities.

It is extremely difficult for a company to continue reinventing itself in terms of vision. Yet this activity must be undertaken often enough to ensure that the present level competitiveness is maintained or enhanced. Employers must be continually developed and at the same time the company must maintain its reputation in regards to effective use of technology. At that point, executive leaders must come in as change catalysts and more importantly as articulators of strategic direction.

Technology as an enabler of a global strategy and the mediating role of leadership

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of technology in the present age is its ability to help companies implement a global strategy. Consequently, or as part of this unfolding scenario, information technology has become an essential part of the contemporary firm. Therefore, it is not surprising that many practitioners and academics like are very keen to discuss issues relating to technology adoption in corporate contexts (Govindarajan & Ramamurti, 2011; Jovane, Yoshikawa & Alting, 2008; Thun, 2010). In these discussions, emphasis is on views and opinions regarding problems and prospects of technology adoption in efforts by large and small companies alike to reach out to the global market. This interest may have been spurred by the rapid growth of many online businesses particularly those operating on social media platforms and those that offer products online.

In response to the growing popularity of information technology, many technology companies have come up with numerous proprietary technologies that companies can use to market their products on the global marketplace via the internet. This unfolding phenomenon raises two important issues. The first one is on the role that technology will play in enabling businesses expand in the future. The second issue is about the steps that business leaders must put in place to ensure that this expansion process is embraced in both local and international markets.

A new phenomenon that is part of the revolution unfolding under the power of technology is business process reengineering. New information systems are being developed with a view to achieve dramatic improvements in all measures of performance especially quality, service, speed and cost. These changes are taking place not just at the organizational level but also as part of contemporary macroeconomic transformation that transcends national boundaries. In the public sector, large firms employing thousands of workers are embracing business process reengineering in order to reorient their operations, compete effectively, and expand their market coverage. Within the private sector, the most successful stories involve small businesses that started from scratch, leverage specific technologies and the accompanying business opportunities, and practically invented new business processes. These start-ups ended up becoming very successful, world-renowned corporate giants.

Despite such remarkable successes in the world of technology, numerous challenges also exist. Many technological achievements are yet to be embraced by the market simply because of lack of leadership capabilities. The corporate world is still dominated by theoretical frameworks that stress the primacy of traditional approaches to leadership. Yet the leadership of the industrial era cannot fit perfectly into the today’s information age. The new business processes being introduced today cannot be run effectively using the traditional approaches that were centered on manufacturing processes. In the information age, the rise of the service sector to a position of dominance in the global economic landscape calls for an overhaul of the existing approaches to corporate leadership.

As one ponders over the power of technology in terms of how it has led to the emergence of the service sector, the issue of competitiveness promptly crops up. Today, all companies are being compelled to operate in a very competitive environment. Companies that occupy a position of industry leadership at the global level may easily be toppled by start-ups that have been in business for less than one year. The internet has created endless opportunities for such start-ups to create a competitive advantage through innovation. More than ever before, today’s large corporations are turning to transformational leaders to enable them survive in this competitive environment.

The mediating role of leadership is quickly being recognized as an excellent avenue through which complex business problems in today’s globalized world can be solved. After all, survival depends on the ability to adapt to new phenomena. In the world of technology, leaders are in a unique position to steer companies towards new sources of competitive advantage. If equipped with the right professional skills and experiences, such leaders are capable of taking advantage of protected markets as well as vast financial and physical assets in the possession of the companies to enable them ward off competition from resource-strained, technologically savvy start-up entrepreneurs.

Other than managing physical and financial assets, today’s leaders must be good at knowledge management. This is simply because the endless opportunities being created in the current world of information technology can best be exploited if business organizations are operating under the leadership of people who can create the ideal environment for new knowledge to be generated and disseminated across the organization.

The amount of information that is accessible via the internet may not be useful to the organization if the workplace is still dominated by traditional methods of tackling challenges, directing behaviors, and interpreting phenomena. In such a workplace, a new brand of leadership that can facilitate a better understanding of how information systems influence knowledge management should be introduced. Such a leader should be able to inculcate a new culture whereby knowledge is continually shared among members, units, and departments, thereby promoting new understanding (Graebner, 2004). To succeed in this undertaking, executive leaders should possess the requisite technology skills and competencies. These skills and competencies will also enable them to become champions of organizational transformation in the digital age.

Importance of IT (Information Technology) competency among executive leaders

As the chief strategists of their respective business organizations, executive leaders have a responsibility to ensure that a new practice where all employees embrace organizational learning is introduced and safeguarded. However, these leaders can never succeed in this objective if they lack IT competency themselves. Technophobic leaders may fall too far off the mark in terms of suitability for a role at the helm of organizations that are struggling to establish new areas of competitiveness in today’s information. In contrast, corporate leaders who happen to double as technology enthusiasts may have an uphill task of juggling between boardroom appointments and efforts to catch up with the latest trends in the world of internet technologies, e-commerce, and information systems. Any executive leader with IT competency is able to easily make sense of the external information regarding the environment in which his company operates. This enhances the existing awareness regarding customers and how their needs can best be satisfied to establish sustainable competitive advantages.

Today, access to information is no longer a problem. The biggest challenge is on how to obtain quality information. In this case, quality is determined based on precision, reliability, accuracy, and relevance. Unlike in the past where the main problem for leaders was availability of information, the biggest challenge today relates to the availability of too much information! It is the responsibility of executive leaders to ensure that the most sophisticated database solutions are installed in the company and that they can be relied upon to generate timely, reliable, accurate, and relevant information.

IT competency encompasses three dimensions: IT knowledge, IT infrastructure, and IT operations. For the executive leader to be efficient, he must understand how each of these dimensions contributes to the organization’s capacity to manage information and retain all customers. In technology-driven firms, these leaders tend to have an even bigger challenge because customers’ expectations tend to be even higher. This is simply because such companies are expected to lead the way in demonstrating how specific technologies can create new value for the organization.

Conclusion

This report has examined a number of issues relating to leadership and technology. The main ones include the role of executive leaders in technology-driven firms, the challenge of acquiring technological skills on the part of executive leaders, the need for strategy-focused leadership in technology-driven organizations and the role of technology as an enabler of global strategy. All these issues must be looked at by executive managers in a very serious way because they are at the heart of the survival of their companies in today’s highly competitive market. One thing that stands out in this discussion is about the need for executive leaders to exploit technology fully as a way of enabling them to compete in the global market by establishing new competitive advantages.

 

References

Govindarajan, V. & Ramamurti, R. (2011). Reverse innovation, emerging markets, and global strategy. Global Strategy Journal, 1(3), 191–205.

Graebner, M. (2004). ‘Momentum and serendipity: How acquired leaders create value in the integration of technology firms’. Strategic Management Journal, 25(8), 751–777.

Hoppe, H. (2002). The Timing of New Technology Adoption: Theoretical Models and Empirical Evidence. The Manchester School, 70(1), 56–76.

Huy, Q. (2002). Emotional Balancing of Organizational Continuity and Radical Change: The Contribution of Middle Managers. Administrative Science Quarterly, 47(1), 31-69.

Jovane, F., Yoshikawa, H. & Alting, L. (2008). The incoming global technological and industrial revolution towards competitive sustainable manufacturing. CIRP Annals – Manufacturing Technology, 57(2), 641–659.

MacNeil, C. (2004). Exploring the supervisor role as a facilitator of knowledge sharing in teams. Journal of European Industrial Training, 28(1), 93 – 102.

Mumford, M. Zaccaro, S. & Harding, F. (2000). Leadership skills for a changing world: Solving complex social problems. The Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 11–35.

Thun, J. (2010). Angles of integration: An empirical analysis of the alignment of internet-based information technology and global supply chain integration. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 46(2), 30–44.

Woiceshyn, J. & Daellenbach, U. (2005), Integrative capability and technology adoption: Evidence from oil firms. Industrial and Corporate Change, 14(2), 307-342.

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