Resolve today to get started. Here's how you can use the computer technology around you to become a master of on-line leadership:
• Communicate. E-mail is a fast, efficient and inexpensive communications tool. Use it to ask questions, make suggestions and comment on performance. If you have a laptop computer, you can send and receive mail from any location -- a great tool if you or your employees travel a lot.
• Make announcements. Why send paper or fax memoranda to long lists of people when you can produce electronic distribution lists and create memos on-line? Electronic lists are cheaper and allow you to get information into the hands of other people faster.
• Supervise. During face-to-face supervisory discussions you can pose questions about an employee's performance, problems for discussion and hypothetical dilemmas. Using your electronic tools, pose probing questions on-line and elicit the perceptions and ideas of your employees.
• Monitor. Use your network or file transfer capabilities to review the written work and communications of employees. Insert your own comments where appropriate.
• Gather and distribute reports. When you must disseminate documents, do so on-line. When you want your staff to provide weekly, monthly or other periodic reports, ask that they be sent the same way.
• Plan and schedule. Place appointment calendars, daily task lists and travel plans on-line. You and your employees then can review what everyone else is doing and where they're going. You can easily use this information to pinpoint meeting dates and times.
• Store policies and procedures. Why not place your entire manual (you should have one) and other reference materials on-line and allow your employees to consult them whenever questions arise? You'll save paper and time.
• Gather opinions and views. Can't have a staff meeting? No problem. Ask for advice in the form of a simple on-line survey or questionnaire. Or post a series of discussion topics and ask for the insights of your staff.
• Disseminate financial data. Today you have the capability to store budgets, fiscal performance reports, spreadsheets and other fiscal material on-line and allow your employees to retrieve them as needed. No more telephone calls, file searches and wasted time. If you have a network or Intranet, all the better. You can store almost any kind of business document or database here and allow for instant retrieval.
• Follow-up. Using your electronic tickler system, enter all major deadlines and employee benchmarks. Generate follow-up queries whenever significant dates come up. This is a great way to monitor progress toward objectives.
• Process routine forms. If you solicit forms from your staff such as lead projections, fiscal goals, purchase requests or whatever, create electronic versions of those forms and ask that they be completed on-line.
• Post messages. Use your electronic bulletin board just as you'd use a traditional bulletin board: post and review messages for, and from, your staff. Better yet, using this electronic board, post interesting facts or synopses of articles you've read.
• Stage conferences. Schedule a period of time when your people can log on to their computers for an electronic discussion. No, you might not be able to see their faces (the technology level at many companies doesn't provide this capability -- yet), but you can have a dynamic discussion on almost any issue in real time, even if those involved in it are miles apart
• Brainstorm. You can run on-line brainstorming sessions in real time or in time-delay mode. Encourage participants to post their ideas on a theme or reactions to an issue, then seek reactions and clarification.
• Publish articles. One of the roles of an effective leader is to comment on company or business trends. Consider publishing "Letters to the Editor" or formal articles for your favorite professional journal. But do so in their on-line editions -- or at the very least, make the material available to the people around you on-line.
• Discuss issues. Start and moderate a discussion group, which might consist of your own employees or colleagues from your industry or trade association. Use the group to share your expertise and channel ideas and suggestions on topics of mutual interest.
• Train. Yes, you can run your own training programs on-line. Some examples would include offering a curriculum outline, electronic exhibits and electronic reprints of educational materials. If you can't develop your own on-line training material, you can use technology to establish electronic links to training materials offered by other companies, educational institutions or journals.
• Inspire. Start by posting your own personal home page. Explain your business philosophy, goals, standards and other information your employees might be curious about. Establish electronic links between this page and other sites important to you and let your people follow them.
Using your own creativity, you can magnify the impact of technology on your leadership abilities, and ultimately use technology to move your people toward progressively higher levels of success. Even if you don't have a well-developed computer network or Internet, you still can exchange information and data using electronic file transfer technology or even diskettes.
Technology affects leaders of almost every business today, large and small. The question, then, is not whether you'll exercise on-line leadership, but how you'll exercise this important function. Answer that question today and you'll prepare yourself for the emerging leadership challenges of tomorrow.
Richard G. Ensman Jr. is a syndicated freelance writer based in Rochester,NY.