With those words, Erik Qualman outlines the precarious position all of us as 21st century school leaders face. Pre-Internet, school leaders only had to worry about their influence locally within their individual schools, districts, and communities. Now, as Qualman points out in Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence, in a digital world, their sphere of influence and leadership has expanded tremendously, and they are forced to take on one more role: digital school leader. What does it mean for school leaders to become digital leaders? Here's 3 things all digital school leaders have to consider.
- There is a “no opt-out rule” when it comes to digital leadership. In an age of digital transparency, school leaders have a digital footprint and shadow whether they want one or not. While some school leaders may hang on to the delusion that, “If I don’t post anything online, then I can control my digital footprint.” Or, “If I avoid online technology as much as possible, then I can hide.” But reality says something entirely different. Even if school leaders aren’t engaged in online activities they are leaving a digital footprint. They also have many stakeholders who are creating what Qualman calls their “digital shadow.” Parents and students are posting things about them anyway. They are commenting incessantly on Facebook about how they’re doing as school leaders. This means they can’t simply dismiss their need to manage our online footprint and shadow.They must act like digital leaders for 21st century schools by accepting digital reality. As Qualman points out, “We’re mini-digital celebrities and digital heroes to someone.” Digital school leaders must be concerned about their digital influence in the 21st century, and ignoring technology won’t make it go away.
- 21st century school leaders have to change leadership habits to adapt to a digitally open world. There is no place in any 21st century organization for secrecy and hiding anymore. Transparency is the new norm, and effective digital school leaders will master the art of being transparent in their new digital leadership role. They have no choice but lead with increasingly higher levels of transparency. This means engaging in social media, wikis, web pages, and the tools of transparency to be open and honest with stakeholders.
- Twenty-first century school leaders have no choice but watch their “digital reputations.” As Erik Qualman reminds his readers, the best plan for digital school leaders is to “Live online as if your mother is watching.” Their online actions do have ramifications in real life and they must act as if they do. As Qualman so aptly points out, “The digital revolution has connected our integrity and reputation in a way never before seen. Our online and offline lives have become inseparable.” For a school leader to think they live two separate lives in these domains is to deny reality. Digital school leaders are keenly aware that their digital reputation is as important as their offline one.
Twenty-first century school leaders have to become digital leaders too. They all have a digital footprint and digital shadow whether they want one or not. In the 21st century school, being a digital leader is no longer optional.