Why 2018 Will Be the Year of Proximity

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Sistene Chapel Hands

What’s the kiss of death for leadership teams looking to connect on a deeper level with their workforce?

Being accused of living in an “ivory tower.”

Each generation has its idea of what constitutes “out of touch,” of what its particular flavor of the “ivory tower” means to the culture at large. Today, the western notion of the ivory tower is simply this: Emotional and physical distance maintained by actual or perceived barriers.

The digital revolution has leveled just about every sense of hierarchy/silos/barriers assumed by generations past. Just a few examples come to mind that illustrate life in the “post-barrier” age:

  • Social media removes any barriers between the personal lives of celebrities and everyday people.
  • Google has removed gatekeepers and dethroned physical places as the intermediaries between knowledge and knowledge-seekers.
  • Economic transparency now allows for charitable donations, political contributions, and personal finances to be unearthed, dissected and visualized in a matter of hours.
  • Business decision makers have very few barriers to raw information. The challenge now is less about finding facts and more about knowing what to do with them.
  • “Big data” and those that can wield it, have trained us to believe that every batch of numbers has a story that can be told with the push of a button.
  • Shopping technology, like the new Amazon stores with no checkouts, remove the barriers of choice, time, and location.

In other words, the expectation today is that everything and everyone is accessible. And open. It may not seem like rocket science that you need to be close to your people, the push/pull effect of remote working tools, mobility, and globalization have made it easier than ever for leaders to grow farther apart from their people. With new technologies of connection come equally challenging side effects of disconnection.

2018 is the year of proximity.

It’s the year for leaders to get closer than they ever have before. Closer to their staff (conceptually, but also get-out-of-the-conference-room closer too). It’s the year for putting HR and IT together at the same table. It’s the year to be in closer proximity to social causes. It’s the year for a closer proximity between your real life and your social media life. It’s the year for boomers and millennials to get closer in both knowledge and know-how. It’s about leaders getting closer to their people and what they care about.

The scarlet letter for today’s leader is to be accused of living in an ivory tower. It’s the first cultural symptom in the chronic illness of irrelevancy.

But it’s preventable. If you get close.