Leadership in the Digital Age and Why Contemporary Leaders Must Master These Skills
The End of the Command and Control and Top down Hierarchical Organisations
The Digital Age is well and truly upon us. Compared to the earlier eras in business and society, the Digital Age needs new skill sets and mastery of these attributes would determine success or otherwise in the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Right from the end of Top down Hierarchies to the Need to Master Technology and Not Become a Slave to It, as well as staying grounded and leading with values, leadership in contemporary times is anything but a cakewalk that demands extra attention to detail and the ability to see the Big Picture.
To start with, the Digital Age firms do not bear resemblance to any of the old organisational structures which typically had Leaders issuing commands that were then implemented by the managers down the hierarchy and this percolation reinforced the authority of the leaders.
In contrast, most Digital Age firms are Flat meaning that instead of a rigid organisational hierarchy, there are self-sustaining and self-sufficient teams whose members are capable of decision making on their own and all that the leaders have to do is to articulate a vision and then guide them along the path that the organisational mission demands.
How Newer Methodologies such as Agile Demand Newer Leadership Skills
Next, there are newer methods and ways of working as seen in the Shift to Agile methodologies. Agile is tailor made for the Digital Age with its flexible and adaptable teams that respond in real time to emerging problems and then base their responses accordingly.
As the Digital Technologies that power the Digital Age firms operate in Real Time, so too do the teams that are autonomous in their decision making. In this context, leaders in the Digital Age no longer have the luxury of taking their time to respond and react and thus, unless there is a problem that needs higher level interventions, leaders can simply let their subordinates handle the problems.
At the same time, this does not mean that leadership becomes obsolete and instead, what leaders in the Digital Age have to master is the ability to direct their energies towards higher value adding activities and to ensure that they retain the ability to see the Big Picture.
Indeed, Agile in contemporary firms needs leaders who can articulate a vision for the future without losing sight of the values and the needs of their organisations in the 24/7 Real Time world.
Avoiding the Immediacy Trap: Mastering Technology and Not Becoming a Slave to it
The third skill that leaders in the Digital Age have to master pertains to the ability to Master Technology and Not End up as Slaves to it. With Social Media broadcasting events Real Time, Leaders cannot afford to lose their way in the Maze of the Information Overload and at the same time, cannot Take Their Eye off the Ball.
In other words, they need to simultaneously respond and react in Real Time without losing their perspective.
Indeed, when everything happens at Once, it is easy to live for the Moment. However, leadership is about vision and longer term thinking and action and hence, leaders in the Digital Age have to ensure that they are Ahead of the Technological Curve without being Bamboozled by it.
As mentioned earlier, apart from avoiding the Immediacy Trap that Technology leads them into, Leaders also have to retain the values such as being humane and being compassionate towards their employees.
Indeed, the ability to Stay Grounded is perhaps the most important trait that Leaders in the present times have to master if they are to build sustainable Longer Term Value for their organisations and in turn, Groom the Next Generation of Leaders.
How Sundar Pitchai of Google is a Leader worth Emulating in the Present Times
Turning to the contemporary examples of leaders who have mastered some of the skills that have been discussed so far, Sundar Pitchai of Alphabet (Google) is one example of a Modern Day leader who is navigating the Minefield of the Digital Maze in ways that are worthy of emulating.
For instance, having to steer Google after the exits of its iconic founders meant that Pitchai had to articulate his unique vision and he has done this in a manner that does justice to the core values and the visions on which Google was founded, and at the same time, has to also given his employees a new sense of direction.
Moreover, Sundar Pitchai has not lost sight of the values that are needed to be a Digital Age leader who does not become an Automaton himself and as can be seen from his refusal to work with the Pentagon on projects that his employees were uncomfortable with, Pitchai has led from the front.
In addition, he is also taking the lead in calling upon his peers in other technology firms to rethink how newer technologies such as Artificial Intelligence ought to be used for the public good and not in cases such as Facial Recognition for Crowd Control as is being done in China and to a lesser extent, India.
Last, the Digital Age demands extreme focus and high levels of hard work to just remain in the race. Skills such as Deep Work or the ability to work productively without being distracted by the never-ending buzz of our Digital Devices are needed for all of us in the present times.
This skill is challenging to master but one, without which, we cannot perform at work.
To conclude, the promise of the Digital Age can only be realised if Leaders recognise its perils and then think and act accordingly.
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