How To Be A Solid Leader In This Digital Era

As a rule, leadership is challenging. When you throw in the digital revolution, it can prove confounding. But how does one lead in this age and does it require a set of special skills?

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Do you tackle the digital part and let the leadership chips fall where they may, or do you tackle leadership and hope the digital aspect will wind its way around it? The 4IR created a brave new world of digital disruption. This successfully disrupted leaders, and as a result, leadership. 4IR has changed the way we work, shop, sell, our economy, day to day factors such as transportation, right down to the way we live in society. It is new technologies and new ways of thinking and doing that causes these changes to happen.

The 4IR acceleration from the first age of mechanisation and the acceleration through electricity, computing to the fourth wave of innovation disruption is happening faster with businesses going out of business faster. 4IR brings us to what Prof Louis Fourie referred to as in a webinar titled Leadership In The Digital Age as “the age of intelligentisation, where intelligence is embedded into everything from IoT, broadband, cloud, Big Data, with all of them playing together with a lot of intelligence built into it.”

“THIS IS the age of intelligentisation, where intelligence is embedded into everything from IoT, broadband, cloud, Big Data, with all of them playing together with a lot of intelligence built into it.”

This is a profound revolution taking place that will change how we do business and lead organisations. Especially when there are different technologies suddenly converging – IoT, robotics, self-driving cars, AI, Big Data and analytics, 3D printers, nanotech, AR, VR, quantum computing, bioengineering –  “the next big thing is a trillion small things.” That, Prof Fourie says, “is the real incredible revolution.”

This disruption is therefore changing lives on many fronts. It is changing the value propositions for an organisation. Whenever this topic comes up, the world is reminded of Kodak, Polaroid, and even Thomas Cook, as well as other businesses not adapting as fast as they needed to, causing them to go bankrupt.

The most disruptive companies in the age of intelligentisation do not own anything such as Alibaba, Uber, Facebook, and Airbnb. “The fact that they own nothing has changed the business forever, and with Covid-19, we are realising the importance of businesses like Skype, Telegram, and WhatsApp, which phased out voice over IP.” This age was triggered by the infamous Napster, a game-changer in the music industry, an evolution that to date has impacted greatly on earnings, with the industry not having as much money as it used to. It is why over half of Fortune 500 companies have disappeared over the last two decades. And why the average lifespan of an S&P company dropped from 67 years in the 1920s to 20 years now.

“Whenever this topic comes up, the world is reminded of Kodak, Polaroid, and even Thomas Cook, as well as other businesses not adapting as fast as they needed to, causing them to go bankrupt. “

Leadership, as we know it, is both a science and art of leadership. As if this does not make it more complex, leaders must deal with 4IR. In this paradigm shift what does leadership look like? Disruption is happening faster within shorter timelines. The environment, Prof Fourie says, is experiencing exponential growth and is becoming more complex. It is harder to be a leader. One must act fast to solve problems; be creative and innovative, have flatter organisations. Projects require agility and speed which we hit the market as well as performance to cap it. We need leaders who can create an innovative and creative culture. A culture where everyone has the space to share their ideas.” That means gamifying idea generation.

“The most disruptive companies in the age of intelligentisation do not own anything such as Alibaba, Uber, Facebook, and Airbnb.”

The role of a leader, though complex, can be broken down:

  • Create a compass. This is your mission and identity, and must be central to what you do and say. Engage meaningfully. Everyone is important in the structure. As a leader, you are a holding space where things are possible.
  • Cultivate a community internally with staff, and externally with stakeholders and the creative teams.
  • Generate momentum. You must have a picture of the future. You must lead people and manage information flow in a strategic way, and share leadership with people around you.
  • Create an agile community which then makes an organisation agile because the team is willing to experiment and give feedback.

This is what transformational leadership is; transforming your team by motivating and enhancing the people working for you. You do it by creating the right environment and making them a part of it all. Inspire others to become bigger members of your team.

The four components of transformational leadership

  1. Intellectual stimulation: Challenge old assumptions and incite new perspectives, ask for new and inventive ways of solving problems both future and current, encourage critical thinking, creativity, and innovation.
  2. Individualised consideration: Pay attention to the needs of your staff and develop personal relationships with them, listen carefully to their needs, create a safe environment.
  3. Inspirational motivation: Arouse team spirit, have an attractive vision of where you are going, where you encourage optimism and purpose, and inspire your people.
  4. Idealised influence: Show, don’t tell, be an outstanding role model, display confidence and passion, emphasize important personal values that are connected to the organisational goals.

It requires intuition, patience, empathy, long-term planning, consensus-seeking, flexibility, cooperation, being good with words, emotional sensitivity, reading verbal clues, interactive and collaborative relationships, doing and thinking of multiple things at once. Why? The pace of change and disruption is accelerating. Decisions that used to take two hours now need to take two minutes. And, over the years, the amount of time it takes a product to get to 50 million followers has drastically shortened. This, Prof. Fourie says, is an unprecedented pace. One that will disrupt you sooner or later, regardless of the industry you are sitting pretty in. What you need is the ability to adapt. To play a Boy Scout and always be prepared.

“This demands a change in mindset by rebooting the C-suite agenda. It starts from the top with the CEO embracing digital transformation. Becoming a 4IR survivor is not just about technology or changing business models. It is about changing mindsets with transformational leadership. Ask yourself, are you managing or just leading, are you disrupted or disrupting, and are you delivering just in incremental percentages or delivering exponentially?”

“It requires intuition, patience, empathy, long-term planning, consensus-seeking, flexibility, cooperation, being good with words, emotional sensitivity, reading verbal clues, interactive and collaborative relationships, doing and thinking of multiple things at once.”

In case you thought Prof Fourie was done, not quite yet. Leaders simply have to be curious and embrace challenges, taking responsibility for problems and creative solutions. “The question to ask yourself as an organisation is this – are we solving a global challenge or is it business as usual? Look at how companies have risen to the challenge with Covid-19. Tesla making respirators and Gucci making masks for the frontline workers. Are you capable of disrupting yourself? Where is the disruption happening? Are there core elements of business you need to let go of to disrupt yourself? Look both in and outside the organisation.”

Even then, as an organisation, check yourself to see if you are delivering. Incremental improvement remains important yes, but it is not sufficient anymore. The world is changing too fast to hand you time to slowly and systematically address emerging threats. The best way forward is to have a solutions culture that inspires employees to think exponentially, together with teams dedicated to identifying exponential growth to experiment and think of the way forward.

Talent becomes critical. Think about appointing the right people. If you are working with people who cannot think innovatively, and you can’t get them to think outside the box, you will have to put in more effort; put them in courses and training. But ultimately, “it is easier to lead people who are already creative and you have to keep up with them.” The moral of the story is this – do you have the guts to lead?

The next webinar will be on the 23rd of April 2020. It will discuss Leveraging Big Data In The Age Of Covid-19. The key speakers will Ben Mann, COO, IBM, and Peter Akech, Founder, Mensa Analytics. Register here.

 

 

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