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Efficient Leadership in The Digital Era: A Ted Talk Summary

In this Digital Era, efficient leadership means eliminating hierarchal management and engaging employees at all levels by creating a culture of sharing.

In her 2014 Ted Talk, Charlenne Li, a Principal Analyst at Altimeter and author of a New York Times bestseller, discusses how quality leaders can approach the digital era to achieve peak organisational efficiency.

Li begins her talk with an unnerving truth: In 2013, only 13% of people worldwide were engaged at work. Four years later, in 2017, that statistic had only risen by 2%.

Time to leave behind the 18th Century workplace

Addressing this engagement issue, Li discusses the dangers of hierarchal organisational structures. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, organisations have relied on hierarchy to create efficiency and scale. However, this top-down approach no longer works.

As Li puts it: “In our modern, digitally connected world, efficiency pales against the need for innovation, for change and for speed”.

Today, the people making decisions and interacting with clients are often those working right on the front-line. As customer touchpoints become more infrequent and their importance becomes greater, management must learn to trust front-line employees and allow for two-way, non-hierarchal conversations that will help talent thrive and deliver an exceptional customer experience.

You can learn more about essentials of customer service in the digital era in our whitepaper ‘Your Front-Line Needs A Life-Line’.

A (Red) Robin Hood of efficient leadership

Lin uses ‘Red Robin’, an American chain of casual restaurants, as an example of efficient leadership. Seeing that 87% of the company’s employees were Millennials, executives realised they could use their digitally-savvy employee base to gather good (and bad) customer feedback and post it directly on the company’s internal social network. Executives started using these online employee suggestions to drastically improve customer experience in less than 30 days – that’s compared to the 6-12 months it would normally have taken.

Red Robin realised: “Employee Engagement wasn’t about employees talking with each other. It was really about them being heard, and that their voice is making a difference”.

However, as wonderful as this open-minded management may sound, the reality is that many executives struggle with this approach to leadership because it makes them feel like they are losing control.

Embracing a digital workplace

Li suggests 3 key ways leaders can ease their way into the Digital Era:

  1. Create a culture of sharing– train your managers to be the facilitators of a networked organisation to accelerate the speed and spread of information.
  1. Practice followership– these days the size and quality of your network determines how much power you have, not your title (a strong network will still support you if your title changes – or even disappears).
  2. Make meaningful decisions– use opinions from your internal and external networks to determine what technologies and processes your company should invest in or eliminate.

It’s time to lose control

Li’s wisdom on efficient leadership resonates with the NKD team. At NKD we know that offering your people a voice and a sense of value is critical to their engagement and loyalty to your organisation.

To see your organisation flourish, you must be willing to give up the traditional notion that power and influence comes from being in control.

Senior managers must trust and give their front-line employees outlets to express their views. Working to empower and engage talent is the route to efficiency and success in today’s changing world of business.

Want to learn more about change? Check out our blog The Human Change Paradox, or why not get in touch with us at

Ana Salitan