A New Approach to Leading a Digital Enterprise
Digital leadership is a strategic mindset, a set of critical behaviors, a way of being and doing. Digital leadership creates a meaningful, transparent, and engaging learning culture. It considers ubiquitous connectivity and open thinking that dramatically shift how organizations are run and structured. It challenges the current models of leadership where knowledge and experience rule and title or position are key to making a difference. The old school of leadership is about the leader and not the organization or the team. The leader ‘rules’ and creates an environment of people-drones who are not encouraged to think but are expected to execute what the boss wants. This impacts the most powerful potential of human minds namely the ability to think and create new ideas and solve problems.
It is important for leaders in a digitally enabled enterprise to rethink their approach to leading a workplace where data is democratized and decision making is decentralized. Some key factors that leaders should take cognizance of to be successful in a digitally disruptive world are:
A digital leader is first a human being.Though born in a technology enabled world which is typically devoid of human empathy or emotions, digital leaders need to come from a place of caring for the people in the organization. The most important part of an organization is its people. Leaders serve the people and not themselves. A digital leader, when bringing digital changes in the organization, needs to think about what they can do to make their teams better, happier, more productive and engaging in the new environment. Digital leaders are teachers, mentors, advisors; someone you strive to be and emulate.
Digital leaders must be visionaries. Something successful leaders have in common is vision, and the ability to inspire others to believe in it. Digital leaders aren’t just following technological trends; they are envisioning possibilities that don’t exist yet. Sharing their visions and beliefs enable them to get the early adopters on their side, while giving the sceptics enough time to acclimate themselves to the new technology.
A digital leader needs to walk the talk. They need to define organizational transformation within the organization’s strategic vision. Be the beacon of all things digital… show, educate, share what the transformation will be like in the future. Leaders who are experts at communication and storytelling throughout the digital transformation process build engagement and win over employees. A digital leader’s story needs to be compelling and relevant. Stories carry emotions, which help digital leaders connect to and motivate others.
Digital leaders must be agents of change management. The “why” of a digital program within an organization must be integrated into the organization’s overall vision and purpose. Digital is often perceived as an unwelcome disruption, as people fear the changes will affect their jobs, their future and the future of the organization. They need a convincing reason to get on board. They need to believe before they engage. They need to realize digital is the present and future. The leader can play an important role in managing and “selling” the change.
Digital leaders must make digital a priority for the whole organization. Competing priorities have long been a top obstacle in digital transformation programs, which are in competition with other enterprise initiatives and as a result, are not always sufficiently resourced. Digital leaders must clarify the role of digital, secure the required funding and drive the organizational vision and long-term strategy.
Digital leaders must aspire to inspire. Digital offers a world of opportunities for organizations to become more efficient and drive greater revenue streams, but not enough companies are capitalizing on it due to lack of digital leadership. Innovation in a digital world requires creative thinking, aspirational thinking and cheerleading. It is the job of the digital leaders to keep the team motivated and engaged while tackling the big challenges that at times can seem overwhelming.
Digital leaders must facilitate a culture of support and risk taking. Digital leaders must support and encourage experimentation. Many enterprises have taken the cautious first step of creating innovation labs where dedicated cross-organizational teams work on new ideas. The labs become showcases for visitors and internal staff and are intended to show new, innovative ways of working. The labs need to produce real, meaningful new products and services that drive revenue, and make the organization and the world a better place. A critical component of encouraging this experimental mindset is to break out of bureaucracy. The digital leader can play a major role in this. Making processes and policies intrapreneur-friendly is a still deeper change.
Digital leaders are not only leaders of digital but leaders of data. Data is critical to driving digital initiatives. Digital transformation requires that organizations look at data in an entirely new way so they can identify ways to monetize it and reinvent business models to create new revenue streams. This requires leaders who will invest in and implement “new” data platforms of the future – platforms that can bring together data effectively as needed, from wherever it is stored, whether inside or outside the organization. It also requires a new understanding of customer experience and how to use customer data to deliver personalized experiences.