Social Media: The New Rules of Leadership

Social media is dissolving traditional leadership structures. As the new generation of digital natives enter the workplace, they will trigger one of the most fundamental shifts in business since the industrial revolution.

We ask David Dumeresque, partner at Tyzack Associates, if the industry is prepared. Why will the so-called “digital natives” generation have such an impact on traditional lines of communication within an organisation?

Dumeresque: The impact of this new generation currently entering the workplace – even more over the next three to five years – will be immense. This is a generation that has grown up with social media as a way of communicating. They communicate horizontally and exchange information at high speed – which is very different to the generation that currently dominates the workplace. To them, even email is slow!

As this generation enters work, they will trigger a fundamental shift in leadership and the way information flows through an organisation’s hierarchy. So, the organisational structure of hospitality companies is going to change?

Dumeresque: Absolutely! Traditionally, a CEO makes a decision and it gets filtered down through the organistion. Really, this “I say; you do” structure has been in place since the industrial revolution. And it’s worked historically because the person you report to has more information than you. But as the democratisation of information takes hold, we will see knowledge shared not vertically, but horizontally throughout an organisation, breaking down the command and control structure that currently dominates business. So is this the end of middle management tiers?

Dumeresque: No, not the end; but we will see them fundamentally transform. The flattening of the organisational structure will mean that a CEO will no longer need to go through middle managers – presenting both challenges and opportunities to middle management.

Their historical role – as a conduit for information within the organisation – will diminish and it is likely that middle management roles will focus more on strategy, not on the operational issues. The good news is that they will have more time to mentor and develop their teams. So what does this mean for leadership in the hotel industry?

Dumeresque: Well, the very notion of leadership is likely to change. In social media, leaders are elected by peers because they have something to say, and as this generation enters industry they will be instrumental in creating democratically elected leaders in the workplace.

And these new leaders can come from the most unusual places within the organisation. Employees will be drawn to the people whose judgement they trust … and this will not necessarily be their line manager! Can the democratisation of knowledge offer operational efficiencies to the hotel industry?

Dumeresque: In the hotel sector, knowledge is often fragmented across a number of individual properties, so the process of democratisation and bringing together of desperate groups will be of great value to the industry.

Say, for example, that a hotel chain wanted to open a new hotel. The old-school way of doing it would be for the executive team to put together a team to implement the project. But now you have a team leader figure pooling talent from disparate groups by asking who wants to be involved. This way, you end up with a group of people who are more invested in the project and therefore more successful. You say this is a fundamental shift in business practice – but how far through the curve are we?

Dumeresque: I think we’re right at the beginning – and I think this is an irreversible movement. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle! Once leadership structures begin to shift, the change will be irreversible.

Moreover, I think that those organisations that do not embrace the collaborative future will not be able to recruit talent from the new generation entering the industry. And the reputation of the organisation will spread (because it will be easier to find out about their working culture): the brightest new talent will avoid command and control structures.

David Dumeresque is a partner in executive search specialists, Tyzack Associates.

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