Leadership in the digital age

by | News

It’s perhaps more telling to leave to one side the newly-founded mega-brands of the digital age and focus more on the bricks and mortar behemoths to see what is happening. In these businesses, we’ve seen digital come from the periphery into the heart of the operation, transforming everything from the customer experience to the supply chain.  Some have actively embraced the disruption, others have been reluctant adopters, but whatever the appetite I would challenge you to think of a leadership role that has been unaffected by the rise of digital.

There’s more to this than the c-suite signing up to Facebook or writing the odd blog,  or making the Head of IT the CIO. Digital is starting to challenge some fundamental questions about what a business is, and as a result leaders to come up with some answers.

You only have to look at what Airbnb is doing to hotels, or Uber to taxis to see that digital is encouraging more distributed, collaborative and partner-based business models to flourish. Extrapolating that trend into existing organisations, surely we’re going to see innovation being driven and value created through more informal structures either brought about by technology, or using technology to disrupt.

But what does this mean for leadership? At the very top, it means CEOs owning digital by painting a digital vision. This means showing the organisation the potential that digital has to transform and disrupt, and let’s be clear, for this message to be take hold it’s much more powerful coming from the CEO than it is the CIO.

Senior leaders must also get to grips with unhelpful organisational plumbing that creates friction between departments when collaboration and constructive relationships are what is needed to succeed. Addressing cultural barriers is also going to be high on the agenda, encouraging cross-functional projects and blurred lines of ownership. That’s going to mean leaders need to be great influencers, team-builders and listeners. And to keep people inspired and things on track, leaders at all levels will need to show how their team’s work connects to the high-level vision and purpose.

While we’re talking about CIOs, their role is shifting too. IT used to be the asset builder and owner that provided access to data and capabilities. Increasingly, IT teams are there to consult, teach, coach and communicate with a plethora of internal stakeholders, and the CIO sits atop this transformation. Beware going to HR for help in managing it though – in a recent US survey, HR leaders were rated the weakest of all functional leads when it came to digital transformation!

For leaders there’s a lot to think about and the picture is only starting to form, but better to be part of it than late to the party. Talking of which, I must order another case…