Why Technology Can’t Replace Great Leadership

April 21, 2015

technology and great leadership

I love every bit of technology that has wormed its digital nose into my life and taken up cozy residence:

  • That slice of plastic and metal they insist on calling a “phone” but is really a computer with more power than NASA had when they first shot the moon.
  • The music of centuries that I can put in my pocket and take everywhere.
  • All those new little medical devices that turn doctor visits into glimpses of the future. (Or of the past: The last time I had my temperature taken, instead of a thermometer in my mouth, it was a swipe of my forehead like mothers have done for eons, although without the tenderness!)

Anyway, have I established that I appreciate technology and how it makes our lives better?  I hope so, because now I want to remind business leaders:  Not everything that goes wrong in your business needs an app!  It may be true that “The Employee of the Month Has a Battery,” but most things that can go wrong in your business want leadership more than the latest technology.

Myth #1 – When our people need more time, we need to automate more of their work.

What’s one of the biggest problems in business?  No time!  I have too much work to do and not enough time to do it.  Trust me, that is not a cry for management to find another IT program that will speed up their work.  It is a plea for a workplace and a culture that protect people from interruptions.

Most people start out with enough time to do their work, but a Time Bandit culture steals it from them, leaving them unfulfilled, frustrated, and resentful.  Change the culture, and you give them back three to five hours a day.

Myth #2 – Better data analytics tools will solve our sales and service problem.

No, it won’t – not if your sales and service employees are lacking in the basics.  Sure, data technologies will show them who is a great prospect for what.  But then are they clear on how to approach the prospect?  Do they have the communication arts and skills to conduct a great sales call?  Are they motivated to do so?  Miss any one of those three, and it doesn’t matter how well all those data analytics tools work.

Myth #3 – Without technology innovation, we cannot improve productivity.

Time Magazine reported, “If we want to get back to the worker-productivity gains we were experiencing a decade ago, we need to encourage the kind of technological innovation that has led to previous waves of sharp productivity growth.”

I hope CEOs and other managers detect the insult:  that leaders have run out of leadership tools, inspiration, and commitment to, ahem, managerial innovation.

What about embedding behaviors?  It takes leadership to ensure that the new behaviors required in today’s digital business world actually become part of the culture.  Leaders who coach, encourage practice, and embed new behaviors.  Technology can be deployed in service of that leadership, but it doesn’t do embedding.


In my own company, when we face a challenge, I’m happy to hear about an app designed to fix it, but I remind my team, to paraphrase The Bard, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our IT, but in ourselves.”  If this is a leadership problem, no amount of brilliant technology will solve it.

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About The Author

Edward G. Brown is the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had, creator of Structured Time & Workflow Management, a video based training solution and co-founder of the #1 firm in culture change management consulting and training for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group. For more information, please visit, and and connect with Mr. Brown on Twitter, @EdwardGBrown.

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