Leading through Digital Transformation

Leading through Digital Transformation

As technological advancements continue to reshape the context and content of work, rapid digital transformation is required across organisations of all shapes and sizes. In our ever-changing landscape, transformation has to start at the top and leaders need to lead differently to capture opportunity and stay relevant.

Technology brings disruption, as well as opportunity. To keep up with the pace of change and remain competitive, leaders must be ready to lead through rapid digital transformation. And organisations must be ready to prioritise the need to develop digital leaders.

A new mindset to be transformation-ready

To be ready to transform, organisations must create a culture of innovation. Change always brings a level of uncertainty and resistance. It can impact decisions, hamper progress and risk disengaging people. So the imperative for leaders to drive the right behaviours has never been greater.

Wherever companies are on their digital journey, they need to be even more agile and be able to deliver in the short-term while adapting for the long-term. They must take advantage of new tools and fresh thinking to help maximise opportunities.

Yet, mindset and skills challenges – including resistance to new ways of working and feeling overwhelmed by complexity – prevent many organisations from achieving effective digital transformation. At the same time, a leadership gap exists in many sectors for digital leaders who are preparing their organisations to be transformation-ready.

Developing digital leaders through the 80/20 rule

Traditional ideas of leadership effectiveness will not drive sustained business performance in the digital age. Nonetheless, digital leadership is not a total replacement of these fundamental attributes. Instead, the 80/20 rule applies.

Eighty percent of the competencies and enablers that have always made leaders effective remain the same. The other 20 percent is made up of the capabilities that are now critical for current and future leaders to be able to drive digital transformation.

The 80 percent: Strong leadership skills are not to be underestimated

Leaders have spent years developing valuable skills and experience. The current challenges of leading through digital transformation make this experience even more vital. Developing the critical skills and coachable capabilities of NextGen leaders is required to rapidly transform organisations.

In addition to having the right inherent enablers, all leaders should possess Curiosity and Learnability together with Digital Skills and Expertise.

The 20 percent: New capabilities for digital-ready leaders

In addition to the strong foundation of traditional leadership skills, digital leaders also require the ability to Unleash Talent, Accelerate Performance and Dare to Lead. Existing leaders and high-potentials can be upskilled to develop these capabilities. These skills can also be amplified by infusing your talent pool with digital-ready leaders from other businesses that may be more advanced in their transformation journey.

Amplifying what’s humanly possible in a digital world

To lead in the digital age, business leaders need to combine the best of human and machine intelligence to create an inclusive, tech-enabled and forward-thinking company. Organisations at every stage of the transformation journey will need to identify, nurture and develop their existing workforce and future leaders to amplify what’s humanly possible in a digital world. Leaders that drive organisational strategy, set the culture, provide a clear vision and roadmap for their people, and identify, nurture and develop existing and future leaders, will successfully transform their organisations.

Digital transformation is ongoing and change is dynamic, so agility and continuous adaption is essential. Leaders in the digital age must encourage a culture of measured innovation and experimentation within clear parameters, and they must learn fast. They should be prepared to quickly course-correct and optimise opportunities. They must break down silos and champion seamless collaboration and exchange of information. And, importantly, they must compete for scarce skills, engage talent in a greater variety of ways, and champion broader thinking and learnability, to fast-track upskilling and reskilling of their people.

This article first appeared in the ninth edition of The Human Age Newspaper.