In today’s world, almost all organizations need a different leader with the intelligence to integrate the existing and new skills effectively. Since the world is going digital – let’s call this leader a “Digital Leader.” Digital Enterprise journal (DEJ) has clearly defined the leader’s traits for a digitally transforming organization. This leader must drive a culture of innovation and continuous improvement in their organizations. They must build teams and keep people engaged and connected to drive the innovation culture.
I see a significant shift in the leadership needs of the organizations. In the past, many organizations used to seek strong leaders, but now they need an entirely different kind of leader – a more agile, innovative, and digital-ready leader. Many companies’ boards feel they need to look out for a young and energetic person to be a new digital leader who will help transform the company. I tend to disagree as, in my opinion, the ability to connect with people and allow a culture of innovation in the organization are the critical performance areas of this leader, irrespective of age.
When I ran the US part of the business for a global IT services company, I believed that people are the primary driver of value creation. This belief is valid for all types of organizations. Unfortunately, many senior executives of companies feel that technology drives more value than human capital, and the investment goes into technology rather than developing people. Technology is essential, but people remain indispensable. The topic of technology vs. human capital is and will be highly debated. Suppose the companies need to transform their businesses for the newer digital age. In that case, one change Executives need to bring is the focus on developing leaders and investing heavily in leadership development programs. In my experience, I have seen that current leaders are facing far more significant challenges than ever before.
There is a paradigm shift in how leaders are now looked at – Gone are the days when the leaders were lone heroes who would take the company forward. Instead, leadership needs to be a team effort where people work together and complement each other. Unfortunately, very few highly effective companies have adopted this; many still struggle to get out of the “Leader as hero” concept.
A NEW WAVE OF THINKING IS NEEDED IN LEADERS OF THE DIGITAL WORLD
When I was growing as a leader, we were explained Deming Cycle – an iterative four-step management method used in business to control and continuously improve processes and products. It is also known as plan–do–check–act (PDCA). My experience taught me that to succeed in the Digital world, I had to modify my cognitive, behavioral, and emotional traits. They needed to be differentiated – thinking, acting, and reacting must be transformational. I
had great success with the people I was leading, but it had little or no effect on the board members who still believed in the “Leader as hero” concept. I found it amazing that Executives do talk about these new concepts in conferences to boost their image but implementing or supporting the change in their organization often takes a back seat. Instead, increasing revenue and profits are parameters that take paramount importance.
It is becoming clear that an older business model will no longer be viable for growing the business in the digital world. The leaders need to build new capabilities. The companies were built on the financial goals model and created new control mechanisms. It’s time for companies to have equal importance to innovation and agility in the organization. Leaders must redesign their organization to be more dynamic, people-centric, and innovative. They need to create an ecosystem of partners. Leaders need to build a dynamic team and drive a culture focused on continuous improvement. The most crucial trait in highly impactful leaders is the ability to take risks. I have seen that the leadership teams capable of taking risks have shown excellent results.
Millennials are also influencing what is required for a leader to be successful. They need continuous mentoring and help in developing a way of providing excellent opportunities to them. Hence innovation and newer thought processes execution are essential for a digital leader. It’s important to create a leadership pipeline at all levels. Top-heavy leadership is conducive to the growth of the company. Companies need to have 40-50% leadership roles for Millennials.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM EXPERIENCE
Almost all industries will face talent shortages and skills gaps due to the acceleration of technology changes. Hence, leaders need to lead the organization to a new digital world while ensuring growth in current business. While working for a global IT solutions company, I had to implement a new strategy for developing leaders for the company to work in Digital Transformation opportunities. I looked at the workforce, identified the potential leaders, started a training program, and named it the “next-gen leadership” program. Other parts of the company adopted it, thus becoming a global program for the organization. I promoted some young leaders and made them accountable for the company’s growth. It showed significant results in the US business for the organization. The training focused on building the needed traits and was based purely on the experience of old-timers in the company.