We've previously heard that many public and private sector leaders remain unprepared for the digital era. A new breed of senior executive is urgently required⁠—leaders of change for a constantly connected world. In this post, Jim Hamill examines the key traits of such leaders.

It is now widely accepted that the main barriers to successful digital supported transformation are people, organisation, and culture. Technology is just the facilitator.

Consequently, we need to pivot from a narrow assumption that digital leadership equals technology, to a much wider view of the new leadership skills and competencies required in a constantly connected world. Possessing digital skills does not automatically translate into being a successful leader of change.

Using an interactive polling tool, participants in our executive-level 'Leading Digital' programmes listed the key personal traits of a successful transformation leader. The results included 'visionary', 'agile', and 'innovative' - 'knowing about IT stuff' is no longer enough.

Successful leaders of change for the digital era require a broad range of hybrid skills:

  • Hyper awareness of the external digital landscape, the disruptive technologies and associated societal changes reshaping industry.
  • The ability to develop an agreed digital supported transformation vision and strategy fully aligned with and supportive of agreed business goals and objectives. Providing vision and purpose is one of the most important leadership skills in a rapidly changing world.
  • Identification and prioritisation of the key digital and non-digital actions and initiatives required to support successful transformation. Strong digital governance skills to prevent a proliferation of uncoordinated initiatives across the organisation.
  • The ability to win senior management/board support, commitment and resource to drive organisational transformation. The active support of the most senior people in your organisation is critical to the successful implementation of digital supported change programmes. The ability to inspire others behind the vision – ‘to change the way we do things around here’.
  • Strong project and programme management skills. The ability to deliver change ‘on time within budget’ using best practice project management approaches appropriate to the specific organisation in question. The tenacity to keep transformation programmes on target, being relentless and totally focused on agreed outcomes.
  • Change management competencies. The personal skills and empathy to overcome organisational, people, and cultural barriers to change. The strength of character to defend against a backlash when ‘changing the way things are done around here’. The refusal to be institutionalised. A clear focus on driving culture change as well as implementing new technology, creating an environment conducive to working differently. Fostering an organisational culture of continuous improvement.
  • Hybrid management skills (technology AND people) to break down organisational silos, restructuring the organisation around customer journeys. A strong focus on execution through teamwork, collaboration, silo breaking, and people empowerment. Creating an environment encouraging experimentation, continual learning and risk taking.
  • A strong focus on performance measurement but with the ability to be flexible depending on changing circumstances; avoid over-reporting by focusing on a small number of key metrics critical to programme success.
  • Informed decision-making. The use of data, information, and advanced analytics to deliver actionable insight and evidence-based decisions but without losing the creativity and entrepreneurial thinking required to drive change.
  • A future looking perspective to cope with the rapid pace of digital change taking place. Recognition that in a landscape characterised by rapid digital disruption, it is impossible to know everything. The willingness to be humble, adaptable, visionary and engaged with others.

Based on this, does your own organisation have the leadership dexterity to succeed in a digital era?

Find out more about the need for digital leaders in the article 'Leaders for the Digital Era Urgently Required'.

In October 2019, Jim Hamill will be leading a two-day 'Leadership in a Digital Era' masterclass at the University of Edinburgh Business School.

Leadership in a Digital Era Masterclass