The digital landscape today is dominated by the 4 Vs of volume, velocity, variety, and vibrancy. For dealing and leading in these times, we need a new crop of leaders. Leaders who can lead with both the head, heart, and hand. Those who are inward, outward and forward-looking. Those who have the matter and mettle to make a difference to the people and businesses. I have seen them operate from growth and abundance mindset exploring possibilities for multiplying value.
For me, leadership is not about positions, control, and power emanating from formal power and hierarchy. We can spot leaders in action when they know what to do, how to do and when to align strategy, processes, people, and technology. Leaders make things happen and make changes possible. We seem them across positions, levels, functions, and businesses. Their inextricable integration of knowing, being and doing shapes their ‘self-concept’ as a true leader. The Digital Revolution needs leaders who make the needle move and bring about a significant difference in the context. They think strategically, engage persuasively and impact business tangibly. As I reflect the following competencies stand out as being critical for leaders to lead and contribute the digital way:
The digital flux is very incessant and intense. It can leave processes chaotic and people confused. Leaders must be astutely self-aware. Awareness of one’s strengths, aspirations, values, and motives help them leverage their own natural inclinations and those of their team. Being high on self -monitoring, they are sensitive to their own behavior patterns and needs of the group. Knowledge of one’s derailers helps in identifying their developmental needs. Being high on emotional and social intelligence, they have a range of adaptive behaviors that help in making the right choices. Knowing the kind of climates, they create helps them configure priorities and actions with the socio-technical and business context. Through Presencing, a combination of sensing and presence leaders reap the digital advantage. They look at possibilities of future using digital in the present. Mindfulness and reflection facilitate sharper focus and better sensing. Coaching helps nurture authentic leadership style where leaders are secure about themselves, more accepting of others and are open to the external challenges. Through self-awareness leaders address critical questions of, “what could I change to evolve better’ and “how can I add more value” by interpreting cognitions, emotions, and reactions.
Leaders today need to be highly adaptable to choose from a wide array of options while dealing with situational demands
Leaders today need to be highly adaptable to choose from a wide array of options while dealing with situational demands. Being open to navigate through a wide array of ‘cognitive mental maps’ and “behavioral responses” without clinging to their dominant logic is desirable. Complexities and ambiguities of the digital world-herald for seamless switching between different tasks and multitasking of diverse tasks at the same time. Easier switches enable them to battle new and unexpected situations. Leaders high on cognitive flexibility focus more on the situation rather than the stressors. I have witnessed leaders who let go of the status quo and have positive self-efficacy driving change with great momentum. When organizations encourage people to try something new, experiment and be creative people develop the confidence to be flexible in their perspectives and styles. Role rotations, stretch, and developmental assignments and participating in diverse teams accentuates cognitive flexibility.
Leaders must transform businesses by having the strategic foresight to achieve long-term, sustained growth for their business. When it comes to efforts and outcomes those who demonstrate speed, ease and precision stand out. Being alert and aware, they proactively seize opportunities. They set directions of business rather than being directed by it. Their razor-sharp logic helps in deriving insights. At the same time, being intuitive enables them to take decisions in the absence of compelling data and evidence. I have observed that sometimes leaders can be great at crafting strategies but stumble at executing them. They do not have the passion and power to convert dreams into reality with speed, scale, and quality imperatives. Digital transformation needs Plan Bs and course corrections based on dynamic feedback. Agility helps in comfortably dealing with sudden changes and uncertainty that digital brings. When originality is celebrated, agility thrives. Organizations can hone agility by pushing people out of their comfort zones and grow from their mistakes. They can encourage risk-taking and experimentation targeted at enhanced customer satisfaction. Business simulations and gamification can help leaders shift gears and rise to diverse real-life challenges.
Leaders in the digital age must have the burning desire and ability to learn and grow. The intellectual restlessness to learn a new skill or experience something new helps them stay relevant. This manifests in learning which is deep, wide and different. Having the curiosity to explore helps leaders unlearn, learn and relearn. When they feel psychologically safe, they question and probe. Openness and objectivity to skim and scan relevant information and data for insights are also crucial. The technology revolution brings with it distractions that may confuse more than convince. When people work in empowered teams they learn from and with others. Leaders today learn on the go and in the flow. They seize learning in every waking and working moment from their colleagues, clients, bosses and even subordinates. In fact, leaders who are perpetual learners make the way for organization as a collective to learn and renew in both formal and informal ways. Organizations should encourage leaders to set aside time for learning and encourage them to sharpen their saws. Mentoring and peer learning can play a critical role in perpetuating learning of leaders.
When organizations encourage people to try something new, experiment and be creative people develop the confidence to be flexible in their perspectives and styles
I strongly endorse Connectional Intelligence as a key differentiator to success in the digital world. It’s beyond increasing the number of personal contacts. Digital has enhanced accessibility and provided immense social connectivity. Garnering support from the community to mobilize pursuit of goals is incredibly useful. When leaders connect with internal and external stakeholders, they become more inclusive of divergent ideas and perspectives. They are conscious of using a wide range of tools to forge lasting connections and express themselves with authentic intentions. When human centeredness is at the heart of building alliances, purposeful synergies and collaborations result. Erica Dhawan in her book Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence has highlighted that connectional intelligence helps “to drive innovation and breakthrough results “. Organizations can propel people to build and optimize networks using digital links. Social media skills are indispensable for the new age leader and boost individual and collective performance. Hyperconnectivity beyond organizational confines helps create a boundary-less community involving consumers, industries, regulatory agencies, suppliers and even competitors alike.
A growth mindset will make leaders triumph. Digital transformations require new ways of working not just technology. Leaders manage business accelerations, innovations and disruptions owing to technology. They depart from the fixed mindset and start dreaming big. They try new possibilities even at the risk of failing. I admire the way Satya Nadella went about changing Microsoft’s culture and fortunes by emphasizing that people shift from “I know -it- all” to “I will learn-it-all”. Learning from inside and outside the organization are both profound. I have seen leaders with growth mindset obsess about customers. They deeply listen to the stated and unstated customer needs with empathy. Growth mindset can be instilled by empowering leaders to explore and work with accountability and passion. Helping them find their own purpose and internalize the mission and values of the organization augers well.
As leaders sense the dynamic context, set the vision, stretch the cultural boundaries and strive to achieve stupendous sustainable success, they can use digital as their midas touch. At times, digital journeys can be incessant and unrelenting, leaders need balance. They need to juggle demands, manage surprises, smoothen imperfections and prioritize imperatives along the way. Embracing new possibilities with a strong compass will help their organizations realize digital transformation agendas. We need strategists, innovators, and multipliers who are also open, humble, intuitive and inclusive leaders. To lead the digital way, the leaders need to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.