Digital Transformation

Challenges of Digital Leadership

16 May 2017
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Reading time: 4 minutes

I often heard the sentence: “IoT will kill jobs!” I never questioned the fact that I am part of the digital revolution, rather I am proud of being part of it and of getting the chance to form it. So far I considered aspects like the impact on business, on organization, on the requirement engineering discipline etc.

Then I got a wake-up call: During my leadership trainings I realized that I have missed a very important dimension: Leadership within the digital world. And I imagined the following picture, which was finally illustrated by Reto Eichholzer:

It's time for Digital Leadership

It’s time for Digital Leadership, Bildquelle Zühlke

In my post of my blog series “4 IoT-rules” I describe how important it is to create room for innovation and for generating ideas for the digital world. But what should the leadership style in an innovation environment look like? I observed enough transactional leaders who mainly define the tasks and supervise closely, in setups where idea generation was very important. I think it is not surprising that this style limited creativity and willingness to go the extra mile – a blocker for innovation. An appropriate leadership style is crucial to succeed in the digital world, but what are the things to consider at least? A transformational leader already brings a good basis and I want to mention the two following points:

  • Situation awareness: The leader analyses the situation, then asses the team members and choses the appropriate leadership style (acc. to Hershey and Blanchard: directive, consultative, participative and delegative)
  • Employee connection and motivation: The leader is engaging to create a connection with the employees and uses intrinsic motivators to achieve a goal.

But what needs to be considered on top of that by a digital leader? At least the following 4 digital dimension:

  • Leadership by spotting business opportunities through new technologies: Many technologies (e.g. connected devices – IoT, VR/AR, social media, blockchain) pop up. Leaders need the willingness to experiment with these new opportunities, to reconsider their business and redefine the customer experience – “customers want things here and now” – basically a customer-centered strategy is needed.
  • Leadership within change and transformation: A project within the digitalization has always a transformation and change character. Recognition of this fact and the willingness to undergo such a transformation is a key factor to succeed with any digital initiative. The “Forbes” article “How to be a digital leader” paints a great image of the dynamic of the change caused by digitalization: “Most of us are still digital immigrants and with any immigrant in a foreign culture, there are new languages, attitudes and mind-sets that can be learned, helping ease your transition into this new environment. Leaders have to become digitally fluent!”
  • Leadership with a strong social and human factor: The digitalization is impacting the education system as well to be able to deliver the right human resources: What are important subjects to teach within the digital world? What disciplines have to consider what digital facts?  The education system needs time to change and an organization has to develop new capabilities.  For a digital leader it is essential to develop the needed digital competencies as soon as possible – internally and externally. A digital leader needs to take care of social responsibility and he has to support technology averse people with dedicated trainings to take their fears of job loss and motivate them to contribute to value creation within the digital world.
  • Leadership of communities in a collaborative culture: Leaders have to create an environment where teamwork is facilitated and where people can learn constantly and adapt to new technologies. In many organizations I have seen people with a lot of motivation to be part of the digital movement and when they had the chance (e.g. in a “Rent a Start-Up”-setup)  they came up with great ideas. Therefore, it is essential that employees are empowered to communicate over the different senior levels to achieve a smooth collaboration of non-digital, partly digital and digital natives. This can be supported by dedicated business-platforms to share and unite experience, strategic thinking, knowledge of new technologies and the understanding of the resultant new behaviors.

These are just some points. Yes, it is time to address fears and social movements and to guide people to find their place together with technology, things and robots. And yes, it’s definitively time for digital leadership! #Time4DigitalLeadership

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