On a recent snowy weekend in the mountains of Vermont, my husband’s extended family had gathered to enjoy a weekend of skiing, snowshoeing, and lots of conversation gathered around a roaring fire. All of the nieces and nephews were racing around the house enjoying a good old-fashioned winter getaway weekend complete with marshmallows, hot chocolate, and board games.
Well… no board games, actually.
The “hot” game of this weekend was not Scrabble or Monopoly but Trivia Crack—the most downloaded game app in December 2014, modeled after the old Trivial Pursuit game that many of us were addicted to back in the 1980s.
I watched and eventually participated in countless rounds of Trivia Crack with my nieces and nephews. But I was fascinated by the dynamics (or lack thereof) surrounding game play. There was no shouting of “Your turn, Aunt Karen!” across the room, no gathering around a game board, no banter between turns. Each round of Trivia Crack was a solo pursuit, with the silence interrupted only by electronic notifications when your opponent answered incorrectly and it became your turn. Many of us were in the same room enjoying that fire–others gathered in the nearby kitchen—but there was little conversation. We were playing a game together in close proximity but not talking to each other.
Continuing to observe them, I marveled at how they whizzed through each round, collecting the prized icons in rapid fashion–and found myself wondering how this lack of personal interaction would play out one day when they work in business and industry. Their “norm” is virtual: texting, Facebook, Instagram, Minecraft, Facetime, and Skype.
Recently I walked into my son’s room and found him playing Minecraft with his best friend from school – a young man who lives down the street but whom I have never met in person! I suggested he invite his friend over instead of playing online. He looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked, “Why would I do that?” His “best friend friendship” is largely focused around a mobile device.
What does this mean for us as leaders in business? I’m no sociology guru, but I’m willing to bet the way we do business today will change significantly when this generation makes its way into our corporate boardrooms. Will we even need boardrooms and big office spaces? Or will our future business leaders operating in a global economy be all virtual all of the time? Are the days of face- to-face meetings numbered?
Future leaders will always need those key ingredients of Executive Presence for success including vision, confidence, practical wisdom, assertiveness, and integrity. But I would also argue that success in business will also always require solid communications skills regardless of how advanced the technology might be. Interpersonal skills and the ability to pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues serve us every day in business, as do the ability to read a room and know whether an idea is engaging your audience.
Likewise, meeting a prospective client and building the trust that makes for longstanding, profitable business relationships will continue to depend on face-to-face interpersonal skills.
Looking ahead 15 or 20 years, I wonder if the value of “looking someone in the eye” or a “handshake on the deal” will be regarded as quaint, old fashioned customs. On the other hand, I also think it’s very possible that face-to-face meetings will be just as important than ever… and that we will have a workforce that is getting less opportunity to develop those skills because of how much time we spend communicating virtually instead of having countless opportunities to learn how to read someone’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
It’s incumbent on all of us to ensure that the next generation of leaders not only embraces all that technology offers- but also does not forget the basics of building relationships and the importance of real face time.
In the meantime, though, Owen just answered incorrectly, so now it’s my turn.
An executive coach and communications strategist, Karen Marinella helps leaders accelerate business performance through powerful communication. Karen joined Bates in 2014 as an executive coach and principal. Like the rest of the Bates team, Karen is passionate about helping leaders change the world and leave their mark.