Leadership disrupted

Leadership disrupted: pushing the boundaries

The requirements of leadership have changed as companies transform and realise the need for digital organisational models. Many organisations seek agile, diverse, and dare I say it, young leaders.

As current position-holders or HiPo succession plans, the aim of organisations is to partner these young guns with, or even let them create, new leadership models based on the “digital way”.

Leadership development however is lagging behind the desire of companies to push the boundaries of traditional hierarchies. This new breed of digital leaders are dealing with more complex and diverse work roles than their counterparts of 30 years ago, and they empowered and thriving in the rapidly changing network. No wonder. There is no real benchmark, apart of course from the success of the company, and the successors they create in their own image.

For many companies the challenge is getting the organisation to embrace change.  Too often when these companies talk about leaders, they are thinking about an individual with specific abilities. But no one can do everything, and the “life cycle” of executives is shortening, particularly in public companies.

Leadership is a team sport. Successful companies such as Google and Australia’s own Atlassian regard leadership as a team effort and recruit leaders who can work together, complement each other, and function as a team. The issue then is finding the right combination of complementary talents. Business leaders should be asking themselves “how do we build a diverse and creative team that can reach better decisions?”

The wants and needs of customers and employees have evolved as digital technologies have created new ways of interacting with businesses. Satisfying and retaining these connected and smart customers and employees require leaders to learn new skills. Certainly the rewards are there. Businesses and leaders that adapt to this new environment enjoy higher profits and growth, and satisfied stakeholders.

Employees and gig economy workers alike want recognition. Customers want to participate in the marketing and development process. Leaders are finding that open and agile organisations are able to respond faster and more effectively to these developments than organisations where all insight and direction comes from the top.

But organisations will not have the luxury to play out this change over time, particularly in the midst of disruption. The current leadership has to recognise the need for change and then compel the organisation to change fast enough.

Companies such as GE, IBM, Nestle, Xerox and MasterCard now bring leaders together for collaborative design and problem-solving exercises, challenging them to understand the way different business functions, industries, and technologies come together to form solutions.

It is as important as ever to have strong leaders. Today they have to be agile and digital ready. And they must understand how to build and take charge of teams. They must adapt to keep people connected and engaged; and drive a culture of innovation, learning and continuous improvement, not just for the permanent workforce, but also for members of the gig economy – contractors and crowd talent.

In the face of a leadership talent shortage, the most sophisticated organisations are designing programs to “create” the leaders they need based on the ability to identify potential, rather than just recognise performance.