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High-touch leadership needed in high-tech units

Published: 02:09PM May 3rd, 2018

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. — Technology has revolutionized our lives and the Air Force. Our high-tech culture and military are capable of unprecedented effectiveness and agility. In many facets of our personal and professional lives, technology lets us communicate rapidly and accomplish a variety of tasks with minimal personal interaction.

However, this high-tech world introduces a risk of leaders losing touch with those they command. To avoid technological isolationism, leaders must focus on using high-touch tactics, including learning about subordinates, providing continuous performance feedback and taking ownership of the organization’s actions.

Leaders cannot lead effectively by sending a barrage of emails; it takes time, effort, creativity and, most of all, requires genuinely caring about the welfare and development of their personnel. In the age of social media and mass emails, it is easy to think we know people based on what we see on a computer screen, but learning about an individual demands face-to-face interaction, understanding their nonverbal communications and gauging their motivations.

Only through the process of learning about an individual can leaders understand how to motivate and mentor their Airmen to achieve excellence.

Deliberate performance feedback is critical to correcting substandard performance, rewarding excellence and putting individuals on a path to being outstanding contributors to the goals of the organization. Virtual feedback is not sufficient. Performance feedback must be a face-to-face communication, capitalizing on the knowledge a leader gains from learning about the subordinate.

It is easy for leaders to think they provide continuous feedback because they give guidance via email, but that mechanism is ineffective in comparison to focused personal interactions aimed at guidance and mentorship.

Regardless of the generation, people are best understood by, mentored by and led by people — not ones and zeros. A high-tech organization deserves high-touch leadership to maximize the effectiveness of its people.