Leadership in Digital World – A perspective
By Lalit Dhingra, Founder & CEO EnSignis
There is need for Leaders to develop new skills and focus on organization culture and people if they must succeed in guiding their organization into the uncertain future digital world.
Today, almost all organizations need a leader who has the knowledge and skills to integrate the needs of the legacy business with the new expectations created by digitization. Since the world is going digital – let’s call this leader as “Digital Leader”. Digital Enterprise journal (DEJ) has clearly defined the traits of the leader for an organization that is digitally transforming. This leader needs to drive the culture of innovation and continuous improvement in their organizations. They must build teams, keep people engaged and connected to drive the innovation culture. In my experience the leader must also make digital relevant both internally and with the customers being served by the company.
I see a major shift in the leadership needs of the organizations. In the past many organizations used to seek strong leaders with domain expertise but now they need a completely different kind of leader – more agile, innovative and digitally ready. Many boards feel that they need to attract young and energetic leaders to be the new digital leaders in order to effectively transform the organization. However, I have found that the dominant needs are the ability to connect with people and allow the culture of innovation in the organization to be fostered, characteristics that are age independent.
When I ran the US part of the business for a global IT services company, I believed that people are the main driver of value creation in the company. This belief is true for all types of organizations. It is unfortunate that 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 very important, but people remain indispensable. The topic of technology vs human capital is and will be highly debated. If a company needs to transform their business for the newer digital age, one of the changes that executives need to bring is intense focus on leadership development programs. In my experience, I have seen that current leaders are facing far greater challenges than ever before.
There is a paradigm shift in the way leaders are evaluated – gone are the days when the leaders were lone heroes who will take the company forward. Now, leadership must collaborate by creating a team environment where the best skills of the individuals are aggregated toward building a higher degree of impact. Unfortunately, very few highly effective companies have adapted this, many companies are still struggling to get out of “Leader as hero” concept.
NEW WAVE OF THINKING NEEDED IN LEADERS OF DIGITAL WORLD
When I was growing as a leader, we were taught the Deming Cycle – that is an iterative four-step management method used in business for the control and continuous improvement of 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 needed to be transformational. Initially, I had great success with the people whom I was leading but had less impact on the members of the board 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 took a back seat. Increasing revenue and profits were the paramount of importance and often, the connection between the digital world was left to be dealt with later.
It is becoming clear that older business models will no longer viable to grow the business in digital world. The leaders need to build new capabilities. The companies were built on the model of financial goals and hence created new control mechanisms. It’s time for companies to bring equal importance to both innovation and agility in the organization. Leaders need to redesign their organizations to be more dynamic, people centric and innovative. They need to create ecosystems of partnership. Leaders need to build dynamic teams and drive the culture that is focused on continuous improvement.
And most importantly, the highly impactful leaders must have the ability to take risks. I have seen that the leadership teams that have the capability of taking risks have shown impressive results.
Millennials are also influencing what is required for a leader to be successful. They need continuous mentoring and help in developing career paths that make an impact for them. Hence, newer thought processes around inclusion toward improved execution is key for a digital leader. Millennials are raised to believe that can make a difference in the world. They are more tech savvy than previous generation. It’s important to recognize this and show them that you as a leader trust their abilities and allow them to leaders. They must get meaningful and significant important projects to work on, they will live up to expectations.
Few years back, I hired a fresh graduate from top engineering school who had ability to understand the concept designing of user interfaces. Within 4-6 months, she was able to have meaningful conversation with top leadership of our customers on this topic and became good leader in her space within a very short span.
It is important to create leadership pipeline at all levels. Top-heavy leadership is conducive to growth of the company. I believe that companies need to have 40-50% leadership roles for Millennials.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM EXPERIENCE
All industries are facing talent shortages and resulting skill gaps as technology changes accelerate. (Place one of your own examples here.) Leadership decisions on automation investments are necessary as organizations seek a balance in managing the current state with the absolute need for future growth. Integrating the two pieces is on the most important agenda items for CEOs today.
Here is one of my personal stories – While working for a global IT solutions company, I recognized a gap in the development of our leaders, so we implemented a new strategy for evolving our leaders to drive Digital Transformation opportunities. We evaluated our team using the 360-degree feedback method and identified the potential leaders. With a pool of 40 potential leaders we identified 12 that became part of the “Next Gen Leadership” program. The training program focused on building the traits needed to do the job. The training program also had elements of team building and conducted by renowned people in the industry. The existing company leadership played most important role on sharing the challenging situations they faced while growing the business. We also invited guest speakers from Industry to share their stories specifically in the area of Digital Evolution.
After the successful completion of the program I promoted some young leaders and made them accountable for growth of the company. It showed great results in the US business for the organization. Because of the impact, other regions of the organization adopted the core elements of our efforts and it became a global program.