What worked for leaders in a more industrialized economy — a craving for certainty, a love of detailed plans and an affinity for control — can be the enemy in a digital business economy, where the driving forces are innovation and speed.
“Digital business doesn’t just disrupt markets,” said Graham P. Waller, research vice president at Gartner and co-author with Mark Raskino of Digital to the Core, Remastering Leadership for Your Industry, Your Enterprise, and Yourself (Bibliomotion, 2015). “It disrupts tried-and-true management behaviors.”
Any change in leadership style is hard, particularly if it involves tried-and-true behaviors that have anchored past success. Rather, consider remastering your behaviors to fit the new styles of digital leadership. The following six digital leadership personas distill common behavioral traits of digital business leaders. (Take the Digital to the Core Assessment to determine your own leadership stye.)
Pioneers at the digital frontier often work to design and deliver new products, services and even business models in uncharted seas. Leaders in this space require an adventurer’s courage to exploit digital in the face of uncertainty. They start outside, using customer-centricity as a compass, and define a digital vision of what’s possible that inspires others to move forward and take calculated risks.
Often, peers are blind to market forces and potential disruptions that threaten your space. An adventurer’s zeal and vision alone won’t be enough to navigate through inevitable highly disruptive change. Employ an ambassador’s art of persuasion, anchored in a loyalty to the enterprise’s ultimate purpose, to bring others along on the journey.
As the level of industry disruption increases, it becomes more critical that digital leaders are clarifiers of what matters most, including both the digital threats and opportunities. Clarification is needed around how digital disruption fits into the context of your enterprise and the big bets that might need to be made. In today’s volatile climate, the leadership insight to separate reality from hype will be disproportionately rewarded.
In addition to being clarifiers, effective digital leaders must also be educators to amplify digital savvy in the C-suite and board and to upgrade the digital DNA of the wider enterprise. This persona encourages the new mindsets and skills needed to lead in this persistently uncertain, high-velocity and innovation-driven era. Employ immersive learning and visualization to enable others’ personal discovery to help them find the digital opportunities they cannot yet see.
Digital leaders remake themselves to become attractors of both the best talent and the best ideas. This entails radiating a compelling digital business purpose that enables others to contribute to something bigger than themselves. They create, or reset, an optimal work environment, and then use it to attract and unleash the power of top talent.
As the tidy grids of linear processes and rigid industry verticals give way to the fluid dynamics of digital business, enterprises must be able to swiftly remap structures and capabilities to remove friction and move at digital speed. This persona is as much about visualizing new paths of opportunity as it is about showing the business where and how to outmaneuver the competition and master the natural contours of the digital terrain.
Use personas to remaster your leadership
Mr. Waller advises focusing at first on one or two of the personas that aren’t your strengths and that apply to your enterprise’s current phase in digital transformation. Equally important, “Recognize that no individual leader will ever have the perfect blend of all needed leadership behaviors,” he advised. “Build a balanced and cohesive leadership team around you to complement gaps in your leadership style.”