Does the Web change leadership?

Dilbert CPU



The internet has innumerable applications for work and business. Perhaps most important is Weinberger’s (2011) assertion that the Net is continuous. A researcher has limitless options to gather data and enjoys access to knowledge from a single gateway, the computer, unrestrained by the historical boundaries of a library’s collection. Access to the web removes knowledge from the confines of physical media, like a newspaper or book; the nonlinear path to acquiring information on the net, such as through hyperlinked data, spurs creativity and increases the diversity of acquired knowledge (Weinberger D. , 2014). Thus, leaders should embrace the uncomfortable chaos that may result from a grouping or swarming of individuals, even though it may not reflect traditional means of problem-solving taught in business school (Gartner, 2010).

Husband (2016) concludes that leaders should adjust the manner in which they influence followers due to the “two-way flow of power and authority…interconnected by people and technology” (n.p.). The internet, therefore, removes traditional forms of leadership, such as the familiar notion of command and control (Husband, 2016). However, while the Web is vastly changing how organizations conduct business and provides opportunities for individuals at all organizational levels to acquire knowledge, the internet still remains a tool for leaders to utilize.


Leaders do not need the internet to empower subordinates to solve problems through innovative means; nor will the Web remove those supervisors who are selfish and apathetic to followers’ needs. Successful leaders, no matter their connectivity to the internet, develop subordinates to think on their own and engender trust and motivation through authentic leadership and a sincere appreciation for the skills of each team member. In the end, the internet is one of many tools provided to the leader, and it cannot change the essence of the individual who is in charge.

Bill Gates asserts that once humans create machines that are smarter than we are, it will be a relatively short period before artificial intelligence (AI) finds the means to replace or destroy humanity (Holley, 2015). This is similar to Bostrom’s (2015) notion that AI would evolve into a super-intelligent, nearly omnipotent entity that may deduce that humans are a threat to its dominance, and thus should be eliminated. The idea of an all-powerful AI taking over the globe, such as in many Hollywood movies, seems more like a clever story than potential reality. While science fiction often becomes science fact,  humanity’s demise will more likely be caused by non-state actors or rogue nations using atomic weapons, and not the result of a malevolent super-computer.



Bostrom, N. (2015, March). What happens when our computers get smarter than we are? Retrieved from

Gartner. (2010, August 4). Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years. Retrieved from

Holley, P. (2015, January 29). Bill Gates on the dangers of artificial intelligence. Retrieved from

Husband, J. (2016). What is Wirearchy? Retrieved from

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York: Basic Books.

Weinberger, D. (2014, October 22). David Weinberger on the power of the internet. Retrieved from


19 thoughts on “Does the Web change leadership?

  1. Chris, I totally concur that leadership does not need the internet to empower workers, but there is a difference between recognizing the potential of the web and embracing the potential of the web. The web may not change the essence of the individual, but that individual may need new skills in the future that currently are not necessarily encouraged.


    1. Great challenge, Dr. Watwood! I should have prefaced my blog/discussion post that my thoughts are currently on managing 110 low wage-earning employees at the plywood mill I work at. My job requires persistent, individual leadership- some may call it micromanagement- to ensure basic tasks are completed by my employees. At this point, I am not able to use the power of the internet to increase the efficiency of my department because of the nature of the work.


  2. Great post Chris! I really enjoyed your perspective on how the web affects leadership. I love the analogy of the web being used as a tool in the toolbox as I think it is so important for the leader and organization to understand that the web is not the entire toolbox! So often we as a society rely so heavily on the web that we forget to use our own creativity and critical thinking skills outside of the internet to solve problems. I have been guilty of this many times. For example, I hate to admit how often I will forget the answer to something or have a rather easy math calculation to do and rather than spending the time thinking it through, I will just grab my phone and ask google. Boom, there is the response, no thinking required!

    Considering that so many people behave in a similar way, this creates an atmosphere where even though there are more tools in the toolbox, we keep grabbing the SAME one; the smartphone. This limits face-to-face conversations with each other and our use of other resources. My question for you is as a leader, how can you develop subordinates to think on their own and not be so heavily connected to the internet, using this only as a resource and not dependent on it completely? Is it realistic for someone who uses their phone/internet heavily outside of work to be expected to maintain strong work performance when asked to use their own thinking abilities and only use the internet as a tool? If so, how becomes the big question!



    1. Kristin,

      I encourage my employees to resist sending emails and either call or speak to someone face-to-face, at least when the issue is time-sensitive or contentious. I see nothing wrong, however, with employees using the Web to research data. Research must still be from a reputable website; in the least, I want employees to recognize the biases common to many sources. While I do not fully concur with Husband’s (2016) concept of Wirearchy, he is accurate in assessing that employees need to understand how work and business is changing through use of the internet. Another difficult leadership challenge is to keep both the work phone from being a distraction from personal life outside of work, and the personal phone from being a distraction while working.



      Husband, J. (2016). What is Wirearchy? Retrieved from


      1. I am one of those people that works about 80% of my time remotely (technically more). However, I have a phone that is work and personal, I have a work computer and an iPad along with a personal iPad and computer, needless to say my home docking port (aka desk) has been designed in a kind of the google high top desks. It has two flat screens with two docking ports for both computers in which they can be connected side by side. My point is that I think that in order for works to fully understand the blending of how the nature of work is changing our schedules. Chris I am going to assume your workers work a definite shift, correct? They come in and complete tasks on the shift once the time clock hits the limit they leave. The day starts again the next day. In the shift in the nature of work and also the nature of leadership a time clock doesn’t drive my work technically. When I am working on a project I have a deadline and I work towards that deadline, if I finish early then I can relax. Sometimes that means I have an extra week off. For me its an incentive to complete my work. I have friends who have several children who like to go on vacations often, they were just able to take a three week vacation to Thailand. He only had to work a total of 17 hours while away. I think that technology has allowed for this to happen. However, when I was writing this I realized that the shift in the nature of work is only going to be sufficient for workers of certain industries. There will also be other workers that will have to work shifts and time based. If you are an AI enthusiast, this is where your argument, then comes in that AI will take over these types of jobs. I am not sure if I want AI being at the core of the manual workforce.


      2. Wendy,

        I am selfish about AI taking over the duties of my employees or making my position obsolete; none of wants to be replaced and looking for new employment. Of course, I would not attempt to block progress. If an AI can do our job efficiently while reducing the cost to the consumer, then that is the logical, value-creating decision. In fact, Georgia-Pacific is already using unmanned forklifts in several warehouses. The forklifts constantly scan their surroundings, avoiding pedestrians that may be injured. Not only are the unmanned vehicles safer, they move and store materials faster and with less damage that traditional manned forklifts.



  3. Chris

    I’ve had a few different experiences related to starting businesses or working within the public sector and from my perspective many of your comments seem to ring true with regard to where technology is taking us and the impact on leadership. To me leadership really is becoming all about the ability to define a culture within your organization, one that values trust, flexibility and the ability to tolerate constant change. I think some of this is related to the workforce at the moment there we see three generations of workers colliding. Baby Boomers, Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976), and Generation Y or Millennials, (born between 1977 and 1998), each generations has different values and work ethic mediated by their experiences growing up. While there are obvious dangers to stereotyping an entire generation it may allow us to understand the prevailing attitudes of those entering the workforce today. For the most part Millennials are educated, have been underemployed, which leads to an inescapable problem; they want quick progression through the ranks without having other soft skills to do so. In the workplace this unique blend of issues can be extraordinary recipe for conflict. If you are the traditional Generation X manager you have normally worked your way through a career use to a certain amount of directed leadership, but now you find yourself aggravated by new employees who openly question decisions. Over the last 40 years the economy has dramatically shifted from manufacturing and heavy industry to one that is dominated by service industry and white-collar professions. Arguably the only change more significant is the workforces themselves. Employees entering the workforce today are different, this we recognize, but how? The new technology used by your office comes with an instruction manual but your new employee doesn’t. Businesses of all types are willing and able to embrace technology, but fail to consider the effect of the changing demographics in their own environment. The evolutionary progression of this idea emphasizes transformation at the individual level, adapting to, and understanding this new generations work ethic, beliefs and values will be critical to the future success of business.

    From my perspective the fundamental 21st-century template for business reflects the Occupying Wall Street protests which swept across North America. The protest largely originating online and without key identifiable leaders and is a good example of the concerns your company may face. Your employees are now, more so than ever before, likely to feel alienated and act out reflecting the disillusionment found within the occupy Wall Street protest. Thus leadership is now held to a different standard because of the sheer access to information facilitated by technology. The simple question asked by Generation Y (Millennials) is why would we follow your leadership when you are not worthy of my trust? It is a question we need to be prepared to answer. If we can’t resolve this question to generation Y’s satisfaction they will respond in one or more offensive tactics. Often they will tarnish a leaders reputation and utilize legal or legislative policies to attack their own company as a form of resistance in order to level the playing field, all of this is easily accomplished using communication tools of the day.


      1. Dr. Watwood,

        I really like the link from Barclays you provided. However, even though I am a part of Generation X, my signature product would have to be a car, not a personal computer.



    1. Cam,

      Thank-you for the detailed response! Do you suggest leaders, especially those of the Baby Boomer and Generation X generations, use technology they may ignore (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), in order to facilitate communication with Generation Y employees? If Generation Y employees are more likely to communicate and build relationships using social media, then I assume the likely answer is yes. This is an interesting notion; for someone new to social media use like myself, I would need to be cognizant of my employer’s social media use policy, which restricts leaders from posting and communicating certain data on the internet that may be considered harmful to the company’s reputation or considered fraternization. Due to the many rules associated with communicating with employees via social media, I have simply not even attempted to do so. Your post causes me to reflect that I should try because of the different expectations of younger employees.



      1. Chris

        I think many of those entering the workforce now would be considered native to the type of social media technology we are discussing and as such utilize it more often. I know that at one time I started a Facebook group to communicate with my employees and I think just about everyone with a smartphone signed up. It was a way to quickly disseminate information and keep everyone in the loop over a large geographic distance. I also started the page as an alternative to an online discussion page which was full of complaints and rumour about management of the organization. If a decisions was made that people didn’t like they took to social media and complained without knowing or understanding all the variables. While I don’t advocate making decisions based on social media impact it was a good way of instantly getting your message out there heading off any criticism that may occur. In most instances I used the page for positive reinforcement of staff who went above and beyond. They won a little trophy we handed out each platoon and I took the winning crew out for coffee where we could have some open discussions in a casual setting. All of this was posted on Facebook and people seemed to look forward to getting their picture taken with the trophy. Social media in this instance was used by a Generation X’er (me) to communicate with staff because it was somewhat impossible to meet face to face on a regular basis. The staff were going to use social media regardless, so I just found a way to put a positive spin on it. With Generation Y social media seems to be a bit like a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. If you don’t fill it with something nature/Generation Y will do it for you, but you may not like the outcome. Being proactive as a leaders in the use of social media may let you ultimately control its impact.


    2. Your point is well taken in regards to the 3 generations of workers colliding. I see this in my organization as well. As one belonging to the “boomer generation”, I have had to learn the hard way how to reach out to my students in a way that can understand me. Learning is different. My teaching methods have had to change over the years.


  4. I am not disagreeing with you about leadership effectiveness being contingent upon the availability of the Internet. History shows that many leaders in the past were able to move their followers before the existence of the Internet. Having said that, I do think that the Internet has had a significant influence in the way leaders lead. For instance, impactful initiatives or movements can be spread out to more people in more dispersed geographical areas.

    Social media, which has been given a vehicle (conduit) via the Internet, has created many low-cost–or no-cost–communication opportunities for individuals and organizations. So, social media is used widely to share information; for instance, Mrs. Obama’s use of Twitter to raise awareness about the Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria (Brittain Richardson & Hinton, 2015) practically cost the Americans nothing. Yet, the communication channel used was effective in getting the attention of many all around the world. The implication of this is quite profound.

    One of the main implications of social media on organizations is related to how information is disseminated. I would think that it is now difficult, if not impossible, for many organizations to maintain a one-way public information model (Grunig, & Grunig, 1992) as its main mode of communication. By using social media, employees, customers, and community members can now share information quite freely. This means that leaders must be transparent. In fact, Bennis, Goleman, & O’Toole (2008) suggested that to build and maintain trust, highly visible leaders and transparency are needed.

    Bennis, W., Goleman, D., & O’Toole, J. (with Ward Biederman, P.) (2008). Transparency: How leaders create a culture of candor. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

    Brittain Richardson, K. & Hinton, M. (2015). Applied public relations: Cases in stakeholder management (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

    Grunig, J. E. & Grunig, L. A. (1992). Models of public relations and communication. In J. E. Grunig (Ed.), Excellence in public relations and communication management (pp. 285-325). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates


    1. Your assessment is absolutely accurate, and the internet has profoundly changed how organizations and their leaders sustain long-term value creation. I have only two personal professions to consider, however, when looking at the Web and its implications on leadership. As a Marine officer, I was responsible for the personal and professional development of my junior Marines. Leaders focused on creating confident and charismatic individuals with determination and mental agility. At the moment, I am responsible for over a hundred employees working on a factory line who do not receive much financial compensation for their hard work. Unfortunately, neither profession truly requires internet connectivity to be successful. Leadership is “hands-on,” requiring persistent one-on-one communication and active listening.



  5. Your comment that leaders do not need the internet to empower subordinates to use innovation to solve problems is absolutely correct, however by using technology to empower and connect with employees while the core leadership traits exhibited by the leader may not be changed the perception by their subordinates may be. I say this because while a leader does not need to use any specific tool to lead, and tools do not fundamentally change the leadership style that a leader uses, by using tools a leader can display to those they lead that they are innovative and empowering. To a staff of subordinates using tools like the web may seem forward thinking, or it may seem the exact opposite, I believe that the staff’s perceptions are going to be formulated based on pervious experiences with the leader. If a leader, no matter how empowering they may be, fails to embrace and use the tools available to them such as the web they will be left behind as technology breeds a new kind of subordinate, one that no longer accepts being unempowered and seeks out technological opportunities when and where they can While technology does not make or break a leader, the method in which it is adapted and implemented can make or break the organization and undermine a leader’s effectiveness.



    1. All very true! However, a motivated employee does not have to wait for the leader to empower herself. Nothing suggests a worker cannot take the initiative to solve problems and meet objectives by using the numerous tools available in our connected world. Great response, thank-you!


  6. In the dialogue here and in several other blogs the emergence of a new economy is referenced. We are focused on the shift out of the industrial age to the information age and what that means. Aaron Hurst has written a book called “The Purpose Economy” in which he presents the trajectory of past, present and future economies. He starts with the agrarian economy which has the longest existence (thousands of years). This evolved into the industrial economy in the mid-1700’s with corresponding impacts across the world. Next is the information economy that emerged roughly in the mid-20th century (his uncle, Mort Porat coined the term Information Economy in his nine volume dissertation at Stanford in 1977). Finally, he is suggesting that a new economy is already emerging and has named it the purpose economy. He has several important points – each emerging economy grows out of the prior economy; the time frame for the new economy to emerge is getting significantly shorter; the prior economy is not displaced (we still have agriculture, for example); and the locus of control is shifting. Individuals are not relying on the employer to define themselves anymore. Individuals are looking for meaning and definition of self – thus, the purpose economy. Individuals may work for an employer to get a paycheck, but they may also donate their time/expertise to a cause for which they are passionate. His point is that the signs are there, he has been one of the entrepreneur’s facilitating this evolution. Underlying the fear and excitement of the web and networking is whether one will become obsolete, or how does one monetize this new resource? The connection to the overall economy is direct. If the web were simply about connecting to friends, acquaintances, people like us, there would likely be little fear. There are more profound shifts occurring and even if they don’t reach the full populace today, in time it likely will.

    Hurst, Aaron (2014). The Purpose Economy. Boise, ID: Elevate.


  7. You are correct about web changing the roles of leadership. Now as leaders if we can accept and adapt to those new roles, then we can guide the people we serve within the direction we want the organization to go towards. As leaders, our attitude towards our position will set the tone for the rest of the organization. If we cannot quiet the storm within ourselves, then the storms, the rest of the organization is going to be feeling could overwhelm them. When reflecting on our positions, we also must include the fact that we may have to teach those same strategies in others within the organization. When letting employees utilize the web in solving issues that will arise, we must make sure they know how to use those tools in the best way to get their jobs done. You spoke of rogue nations using atomic weapons to destroy humankind and not AI. The problem I see with that is what if one of those countries decide to turn over control of their nuclear weapons to AI intelligence, then we are back to a much more dangerous situation.


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