Is your smartphone smart for your leadership?

Just how much does technology interfere with your leadership? Today’s smartphones enable you to constantly be in contact with the office and access the Internet or the cloud for needed information on the fly. That's good, right?

"It depends" is the answer.

Constant contact and easy access can often overwhelm the positives and make these devices harmful to the leaders’ businesses life and personal life. Today I'm going to share how constant contact can be harmful and then offer some tips on how to use your smartphone smartly.

Whats wrong with the constant use of the technology at your fingertips.

  • Multi-tasking diverts your attention.  With the emails rolling in and the Internet so accessible, you can spend too much time responding to trivial matters.  These constant interruptions and distractions all but eliminate the quiet time you need to think about your businesses, to solve problems, tackle priority issues, or come up with an innovative idea.

  • Too much information.  When you can know what is happening in your businesses at all times, you can succumb to the temptation of contributing your two cents on every issue. The resulting barrage of emails, text messages or phone calls to your teams interrupts their day and undermines their authority and autonomy. This level of micromanagement is not healthy.

  • Interferes with leadership development. When teams and your direct reports know that you can always be reached for an opinion or seal of approval, they depend too much on you. Even insignificant decisions are run by you. You serve as their security blanket. Your team members become unwilling to make a decision for which they would then be held accountable. As a result, their leadership development gets stunted. And so does yours!

  • Lowers your performance.  According to two studies from the University of Southern Maine, the mere presence of a cell phone can reduce the quality of your task performance by as much as 20%. It doesn't even have to be in your hand.  Another study conducted by TNS Research determined that workers distracted by phone calls, emails and text messages suffer greater losses of IQ than people smoking marijuana. These effects accumulate.  

  • Damages relationships. Your smartphone can make you both absent and rude. When you are checking your phone or let a call interrupt a conversation, the person you are talking with feels disrespected, rejected, and unimportant. It's as if you were saying: "You are not worthy of my attention." This can create resentment, and lower your influence. It will certainly damage your connection to others. Try having a meeting where you are totally present and listening intently. Notice the difference it can make!

Tips for using technology smartly

To be used effectively, smartphones require discipline and self-control. If you notice that interference from technology is causing problems in your leadership and relationships, consider addressing the issue in the following ways.

  1.  Assess the extent of your dependency. Are you becoming addicted to your devices? Do you find yourself restless if you don't have access to your phone, tablet, or computer? Can you hold a meeting or conversation without checking incoming data often? 
  2. Acknowledge valid use but limit it. Differentiate between responsibilities, obligations, demands, and just plain curiosity or need for instant gratification. Set up rigorous controls on how often you receive emails (do not use automatic syncing, and turn off signals about incoming mail). Set up time locks that prevent access to games, non-work apps and even the Internet. Create time-outs from smartphones, especially when you are interacting with others and during the most productive time of your day, at nights and on weekends.
  3. Create technology-free zones. Agree on places--like the meeting room, the lunchroom, etc.--that are device-prohibited. That way, nobody has to worry about interruptions. 
  4. Create downtime from technology. Without downtime to recharge your batteries, your stress levels increase with damaging effects on cognition and physical health. The same is true for your team. Schedule at least a couple of days per quarter for you and your team to go on retreat and let go of technology interruptions. I have led very successful executive team retreats in which a big part of the success could be attributed to disconnecting from devices and concentrating in conversations and relationship building. You also need each day and each week some time off from electronics. And the same applies to your family.

Attention, reflection, insight and action don't happen when you are glued to your devices. Yet, your leadership is stronger when you deepen your ability to choose what to focus on; use reflection for self-improvement and learning; leave space for insight to happen; and ensure that new ideas become reality by taking tangible action. 

Use technology smartly. Let it help you be a better leader by controlling it instead of letting it control you. Don't let your smartphone damage your leadership!

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