Tag Archives: Leadership

Technology and Leadership: A Powerful Combination…for Better or Worse 

Taking a class—and pursuing a degree—based on leadership is an interesting exercise. Not only are there many opinions about leadership, but there are also many opinions about leaders and the value of leadership training. One could look at leadership as a personal journey of self-expression, or a mission to change the world, or a daily exercise in running a business, or some combination of all these things and more. Ultimately, leadership is an idea/ideal that means something a little different to everyone who lives it. For me, my own leadership ends up being a reflection of who I am and how I see the world, and even if it is the best of all possible approaches for me, it may not resonate or work for anyone else as a template for leadership. In other words, I think leadership is personal but it emanates outward and impacts everyone I touch, and so leadership—or whatever you may call it—is extremely important.

Connecting leadership with technology adds another dimension that makes an already complicated topic even more confusing. First, technology—like leadership—is all around us in an infinite number of ways. Technology touches everything we do and affects how we do it. Second, technology is changing rapidly and so keeping up with technology is just as challenging as knowing how to best leverage it as a leader. Third and finally, technology is so overwhelming (maybe because of its omnipresence) that it often becomes the focus and overshadows the message it is attempting to facilitate. In other words, it can be a distraction, a temptation, and a way to avoid or miss what is truly important.

With all that being said, leadership and technology are truly a powerful combination. Whether the combination is positive or negative is up to the user. Kevin Kelly, in his book The Inevitable, talks about twelve technological forces that will impact our future. Most of the forces resonated with me, but the idea that stuck with me the most is his description of “filtering.” The idea is there is so much information—more than we could ever hope to absorb—that how we choose to find, sort, and absorb information (aka filtering) is critically important. If we passively absorb whatever shows up on the screen in front of us, we will be at the mercy of whoever is making filtering decisions for us. This allows us to see what someone else wants us to see, prioritize someone else’s agenda, and understand truth through a different lens. Even if we choose being proactive over passive and we manage our own information, we are still forced to trust the filters we use, because there are so many filters and sources of information. So, filtering is also an exercise in making good choices about what and who to trust. Beyond that, it is also about discernment, because blind trust is a bad idea no matter how good the filter. The takeaway for me is to understand I am filtering (or being filtered to) and to proactively and wisely work through this process so I can use the tools technology has to offer and live well and be an effective leader.

This class has also raised some excellent questions (another Kelly force: the value of asking great questions) about the nature of leadership in the digital age. Michele Martin from the Bamboo Project talks about leadership being non-hierarchical in part because of our networked world. Everyone has access to information and learning, and can be impactful because of access. Michele defines leadership as “hosting the space for people to come together to discover solutions through meaningful conversations and structured exploration and action.” Rather than trying to influence a group—a popular, but misguided approach to leadership according to Gianperro and Jennifer Petriglieri —leadership should be more about representing a group and working on behalf of those people.

Finally, Michele Martin also mentioned Peter Drucker on the Bamboo Project link above. One of Drucker’s famous quotes is “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” This quote resonates with me as much as anything else because in today’s networked world I could spend all day (every day) doing the “right thing.” I could respond to every email, meet every deadline, attend every meeting, read every leadership book, and burn myself out to the point that I’m tempted to follow Christopher McCandless Into the Wild. The key is to focus on the “right things” and forgo volume for quality, whether that be in activities, relationships, work responsibilities, etc. In this way, leadership style becomes lifestyle. And, maybe that is the point here. As the lines between work, home, family, the physical and the network become more and more blurred together, it is important to understand how it is all interconnected and works together (or not). As it becomes harder to separate and differentiate, it is also critical to understand what (and why it) is happening to ultimately avoid getting lost in the network.

Will the Future of Community Banking Include Banks?

Community banks—at least in my experience—provide banking services to the communities where their leaders and employees live and work. On the consumer side of the equation, they provide home loans, car loans, credit cards, and other deposit and electronic banking services. On the business side, they provide access to small business loans, deposit products, and cash management services. While banks generally, and community banks specifically, seem to provide a valuable service for their communities, the number of banks in the Unites States continues to decrease, in part due to lack of new banks and also due to industry consolidation through mergers. From 1992 to 2018, the number of banks in the US declined by over 61% from 13,935 to 5,406. In addition to this trend, non-bank entitieshave entered the industry in larger numbers and have put additional pressure on the banking industry to compete and stay relevant.

This article at Worldfinance.com makes an argument that I largely agree with. Community banks (more-so than large banks) fill a void by providing funding to small and medium sized businesses that are overlooked by bigger banks, either because they are not as profitable as larger businesses, or because they do not appear as viable, stable, or scalable as bigger businesses. This is where community banks flourish because they understand the local economy, opportunities, and what will work in the area. They also have a vested interest in seeing local business succeed. Consumer products, on the other hand, are becoming commoditized in the sense that technology has allowed many new players in the field for basic banking services. Because of the rise in non-banks providing financial services, what will the banking industry look like in another 10 or 20 or 30 years?

Brett King, a well-known and outspoken technologist who has been preaching for innovation in the banking industry for a number of years, and has written several bookspredicting changes in the industry, sees banking happening largely without branches in the future. Banking, according to King, will be imbedded in consumers’ everyday lives and tool and they won’t need to visit—or even identify with—a traditional bank. In order to succeed, banks will need to adopt this reality and provide “frictionless” banking where people can get banking services seamlessly and electronically, in a way that provides convenience.

I think there will be a niche for community banking for many years to come, but I agree with Brett King that the industry will continue to consolidate as a large number of banks will refuse to move beyond traditional banking to the way of the future.

The Changing Nature of Work – Banking and Technology

The nature of work is definitely changing because of the web and hyperlinked thinking. There is data everywhere, and it is connected to other data in an enormous linked network. The challenge that came to mind for me in the banking industry is the way in which filtering and interacting has both positive and negative connotations.

First, the positive. Weinbergertalks about how the web eliminates the need for data providers to filter out data and prioritize it for us. Instead, we can take the entire volume of data about a particular topic and filter it down to what is usable for us. The challenge here is to have the time and expertise to accomplish the filtering appropriately. As bankers, this gives us the opportunity to provide a filtering service and be content/service experts for banking. We can be trusted advisors and recommend appropriate products and services, and we can give good advice about banking. If a consumer wants to do his or her own research, the information is out there waiting to be found. However, if a customer wants to save time and energy and just wants answers, a content expert (banker, in this case) can save time and provide expertise.

As for the positive side of interacting, as bankers we have an opportunity to connect with customers and community like never before. We can reach clients in numerous ways on a variety of platforms. Customers can find answers in any format any time of day or night. They can find experts who can provide those answers anytime, and many of these interactions have the potential to aid relationship building over time if the support is ongoing and of good quality. Interacting also helps us as bankers get to know customers better, which in turn helps us provide the right products and services. Building relationships develops trust, which in turn often leads to loyal customers. In these ways the changing nature of work through filtering and interacting is a positive development for banking.

However, there are downsides to filtering and interacting in the banking industry. One significant negative is the prevalence in fraud in the banking industry. Every day, fraudsters are attempting to hack or cajole their way into the vaults—literal or virtual—of banks and their customers. Filtering in this sense is more akin to weeding out the problematic contacts and interactions to protect bank and customer assets. There are so many ways would-be fraudsters attempt to steal from banks and their customers. They send fraudulent emails, hack online banking, conduct phishing attempts, plant viruses, use phone and internet to impersonate real customers, etc, etc. In all these cases, it is up to the bank employee—and sometimes the customer—to filter out the good from the bad and avoid the pain of fraud. The volume of data and fraud attempts on banks, bank employees, and customers is astronomical, and this makes the filtering that much more critical.

The other negative related to interacting—other than fraud—is related to privacy concerns. Banks are held to the highest standard as it relates to privacy of information and customer data. In this interconnected world, the identity and identifying information of all of our customers is completely confidential. The connectedness makes privacy very difficult, and it is even more difficult to find a balance between interacting with customers in various formats, and protecting their privacy throughout. While relationship-building is a huge part of community banking, the practice of sharing and communicating publicly online makes it difficult to maintain the privacy required by banking law. Therefore, it makes the connections with customers more difficult, and interacting does not mean the same in banking as it might mean in other industries where privacy is not such a major factor.

So, in other words, the nature of work is definitely changing, and banking is no different. But, because of the standards and fraud risks in banking, it makes navigating the waters of fraud and privacy that much more critical and difficult.