Growing Leaders in the Digital Era

In a world that is changing by the minute, a business is disrupting or being disrupted. The wave of digital transformation is affecting entire business models. Whether it is how we communicate, how we perform analysis, how we pay bills or how we recruit. Things are changing at the minute. Just like any other aspect of a business, the digital transformation era is forcing companies to also revamp their leadership programs to produce a new breed of leaders, the digital era leaders.

Fluid Leadership

I’ve personally seen the different type of leadership definitions in both the corporate and tech startup world. I believe that the digital era we’re living in requires us to redefine what leadership is about. What actually defines a great leader in the digital era? What differences are there between the traditional leaders and the leaders in the digital era? Many C-level executives that used to rule by a command-and-conquer leadership style are experiencing that the digital era requires a much more fluid, collaborative and agile approach.

The current economy needs a new breed of leaders and to remain competitive organisations need to revamp their internal leadership programmes to build new leaders that have interdisciplinary skills, with an understanding of different business functions, industries, and technologies. Leaders in the digital era can create a learning culture and breath daily improvements. They are flexible enough to manage teams that increasingly include contract and part-time workers. Two of the most important characteristics of digital leaders are that they have innovation in their DNA and are risk takers.

Digital Leaders in place?

With the economy clearly changing on a daily basis and services now being available via an app, you might expect that companies are fully reshaping the internal processes to create the new type leaders. The fact of the matter is that most organisations haven’t moved rapidly enough to cultivate leaders who fit the bill. According to the Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey, only 5% of companies believe they have strong digital leaders in place. In a sign of positive change, 72% of survey respondents are developing or starting to develop new leadership programs focused on digital management.

“Today, only 5 percent of companies believe they have strong digital leaders in place.”

Fostering digital leaders is important for any business, but it is particularly critical for organizations undergoing business and IT transformation. In the current digital economy, this includes any company! It’s time for organisations across different sectors to start to inspire and rewire company cultures and talent across the organization to establish new ways of thinking, collaborating, and connecting.

What is the difference between traditional and digital leaders?

I have worked with great traditional leaders and I have worked and bred amazing digital leaders. Fundamentally there are four types of roles that digital leaders should be able to cover:

  1. The venture capitalist: These executives that understand how investors think and approach innovation from a valuation perspective. They understand the valuation game, invest in talent and cultivate innovation. They mainly focus on educating others about the implications of digital technologies and the value it creates.
  2. The innovators: These are leaders that are constantly exploring the forefront of technology and testing how technology can improve business. They reimagine the future and the business models that support that vision. They create the roadmap, the winning digital strategy and set the pace for change.
  3. The transformer: These are leaders that understand the vision and are able to transform the operations and culture. They manage the organization and its people through radical change and are able to push the digital agenda forward.
  4. The enablers: These are executives that enable the path from the digital initiatives on the drawing board to the marketplace. They bring and build technical capabilities such as analytics, application design and development that enable the execution of the strategy. They boost the confidence of the workforce by giving them the right tools and help employees overcome digital challenges.

Developing Digital Leaders

To identify and support these types of leaders, Chief Innovation Officers and their C-level counterparts can work together to:

  • Rethink the organization’s leadership model, with a focus on innovation, growth, inclusion, and collaboration.
  • Identify potential digital leaders in the organization: venture capitalist, innovator, transformer and enabler and train them.
  • Ensure accountability by identifying the person or group responsible to the C-suite and board for building leaders as part of the business strategy.
  • Promote younger people into leadership more quickly, giving them opportunities to learn on the job.
  • Cultivate risk taking and experimenting by focusing on new products and service innovations. Experimenting should be built in the DNA of the company.

Conclusion

In a global pursuit of digital transformation, organisations need to recognise that leaders in the digital era need different strengths and skills. Organisations need to focus on innovation and collaboration. They should restructure leadership programmes and focus on empowerment. By empowering potential leaders to think, act, and react differently, companies can position themselves for competitive advantage in this digital era.

What is your organisation doing to grow more leaders in the digital era?

Leave a Reply