As we crystal gaze into the future, none of us can envision clearly of what the future has in hold for us. Moreover, with the digital onslaught, the world today is overwhelmed by the technology blizzard and digital storm. Today, we are at the brink of a new inflection point called the fourth industrial revolution; more visibly the digital revolution. Digital is creating tectonic shifts in the way business is managed, creating the fusion and the confusion of interrelated technologies, blurring lines between physical, virtual and biological spheres. In this new world not far away, much the same as a science fiction movie, the world will see automated cars, manual work being taken over by humanoid robots, artificial intelligence doing away the need for sophisticated human intelligence and analytics to predict the way forward. Truly, technology is transforming our lives, fundamentally changing the way we work, re-shaping our workplaces, paradigms, our personal space, interaction styles, the speed of response, hence the entire landscape. According to Josh Bersin, the shift is towards a more knowledge-based workforce, less hierarchical and more networked organizational structures. We are creating a world where there will be more of technology and fewer jobs.
So, what exactly becoming digital mean? The word digital has built an impression that it is all about technology. Digital is far more than technology, a process or a mission statement; it is a state of mind and exciting way of doing things. Digital culture is a belief that can create more positive future for ourselves, our businesses and our societies by being collaborative, connected, adaptive, and data driven. Today’s decision-makers are too often trapped in traditional and linear thinking and they need to focus on strategical thinking about the disruptive and innovative forces. It is important to inculcate changed leadership practices which emphasize on leadership skills enhancement and cultivate a culture of experimentation, innovation, and learning. Digital leadership is less about an individual but more about bringing together a coalition of power, skill, and vision that can collectively start the first wave of transformation.
As organizations change, the leadership agenda is to develop a new class of leaders with strategic and forward-thinking. The technological change demands leaders to enhance leadership skills to ensure that they are able to deliver the digital strategies. This scale of change means that leaders may need to adapt and enhance their leadership skills to develop digital leaders. Holistic leaders help their organizations thrive in a fast-changing business and technology ecosystem. The organizations which are developing effective digital leadership will enjoy substantial advantages in the technology-intensive marketplaces of the future.
For implementing effective leadership development practices the following trends will play a major role in future:
Leadership articulation is set to change
Characteristics of great leadership are timeless and universal. However, different eras produce different kinds of leaders and demands for a different genre of leaders. These leaders are manifested in different skill sets, attitudes, motivation, authority and power. It is evident that the fourth industrial revolution has set the ball rolling for networked organizations and a whole new set of competencies for the virtual world. Leadership styles and skills that may have worked in a more stable, predictable environment of the 20th century, will be inadequate in the new era of uncertainty and rapid change. The need of the hour is to improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Flexibility and agility, initiative and entrepreneurialism, curiosity and imagination and digital fluency are being defined as the new age skills. The four key emerging business revolutions are agility, authenticity, talent, and sustainability. The new age paradigms of leadership are evolving into the concept of distributed and e-leadership. In such scenarios, the leadership is likely to be distributed across a broad range of activities that anyone in an organization can exercise leadership regardless of the role. Successful business leaders shape their organizations to make culture more flexible, less hierarchical, and more networked. Today, leaders are expected to not only be collaborative and run the day-to-day business functions but also serve as digital savvy transformational leaders.
Leadership competencies will still matter
Leadership in the digital age needs strategic approaches, honed skills and updated knowledge gained through unique professional experiences. The competencies relevant to the digital world will change. While the old competencies remain to be strategic thinking, problem-solving, networking and influential expertise. The ‘new age’ competencies will become more contemporary in nature with agility, authenticity, rapid responses, design thinking, and responsive, and innovative thinking. The strategic revolutions in today’s rapidly changing business environment clearly mandate a new leadership competency framework
Leadership development to focus on critical thinking
The current approach to leadership development is focused on building collaborative networks and influence. The new age leadership development is needed to focus less on developing behavioral competencies and more on complex thinking abilities. Right mindsets not only understand and cope but also manage the uncertain situation where past solutions may not be a predictor of future success. Though, leadership concepts and constructs may become more global. Leadership development will need to be contextualized. A clear understanding of complexity and systems thinking are now prerequisites for leadership development. Leaders need to be familiar with emerging digital technologies and also be able to create digital culture. Integration of ‘digital’ is required at the core to provide a base to the leadership development framework.
Leadership development as a self-renewal process
The leadership development process needs to be broader and integrated, helping people to think and act differently, to envision what is needed, to extract the relevant knowledge from the noise, to imagine the future in new ways, and to take action. Leadership development needs to build scenarios for alternative digital futures and plan to use a variety of techniques to engage learners in dialogue. It also needs to analyze intelligence about their changing needs.
Reimagine the leadership development experience
- Find the leaders: With the new workforce, distributed leadership will gain more workforce and leaders at all levels. However, there are workers who do not want to go beyond social contracts and find meaning in more specific technical strengths. Not all middle-level managers or higher level managers may aspire to become formal leaders and they may not require a pooled leadership development program.
- Contextualize and individualize leadership development: The nature of talent continues to change with diverse talent pools like digital natives, millennials, gig workers, digital immigrants, etc. With superficial work contracts, individualized leadership development initiatives will yield more results. Designing and implementation of a comprehensive strategy centered on an individualized approach results in the professional growth of individual employee which help organizations grow.
- Technology partnership: The need of the hour is to adopt technologies relevant to leader's professional development. The virtual organizational world can be simulated in a training suite, or it can be delivered to leaders at multiple locations. Leadership developers now have access to fast-changing communication tools and other digital technologies. Their focus must be extended to growing organizations in which talent flourishes, thereby building social capital as well as human capital.
It is time to change the outlook and the rules of leadership development to face increasing challenges in a digital world.