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Agata Nowakowska


Area Vice President

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Leadership development: mastering leadership for the digital economy

Leadership development must keep pace with modern business practices.

In a fast-paced world, leaders need to move at speed, be responsive and adapt fast. They also need to constantly update their leadership competences for the ‘new now’. Today’s organisations are having to evolve in response to business environments that are constantly being disrupted by rapid market change, a proliferation of digital technologies, and changing workforce expectations.

In the digital economy, the traditional ways of organising and leading are being rendered irrelevant.

The impact of enterprise digital transformation has profound implications for both operational and organisational models. As the business context shifts, leadership development strategies will need to keep up.

Management structures are becoming flatter and more horizontal, ushering in a new working culture where cross-functional teams increasingly work together to solve an array of organisational challenges. As a consequence, managing and directing employees will require a host of new competencies and leadership soft skills.

Enterprises get the wake-up call

To get ahead and stay ahead in today’s markets, companies aren’t just acquiring digital competencies. They’re also pursuing an overall transformation strategy designed to embed agility across the entire enterprise.

No longer the preserve of technology pure-plays, companies in every industry sector are adopting agile frameworks in a bid to compete and win. According to a recent survey, more than two-thirds of organisations now describe their approach as ‘pure agile or leaning towards agile.’

It’s a move that is proving a wake-up call for many organisations whose leadership development programmes are behind the times. Indeed, 32% say they’re only just getting started with adjusting and updating their leadership competencies for the digital economy.

The leadership capabilities that count right now

In the digital economy, the traditional ways of organising and leading are being rendered irrelevant. Digital transformation and the drive towards enterprise agility means that the way people work, and the roles they undertake, are changing fast.

As a result, leading today’s increasingly diverse workforce communities requires a shift from top down decision-making and the adoption of an entirely different value-set and outlook.

Enabling cross-functional teams to perform requires a vast array of new leadership capabilities, encompassing everything from effective communication and facilitation skills, to political adroitness, as well as the ability to build a coalition of the willing.

Supercharging traditional soft skills – like managing priorities or team building – is just the start, however. As organisations dive into revamping the attitudinal competencies savvy leaders will need to drive the digital business journey, they’re recognising that their new organisational culture demands new behaviours and a very different leadership style.

The nature of leadership is changing

As the social dynamics of the workplace change, and the old hierarchies evolve into flatter structures where decisions are made faster and at the point of need, leading organisations are now re-evaluating what competencies will be critical for developing inclusive and agile leaders that inspire workforce engagement and creative thinking.

For these forward thinking companies, the top attitudinal competencies considered critical to the future leadership of the business include leading with values/ethics (77%), a willingness to collaborate (69%), embracing diversity (68%), comfort with ambiguity and change (64%), adaptability (62%) and self-awareness (60%).

That’s not the only leadership challenge on the horizon, however. Leadership development frameworks developed 30 years ago simply won’t work in the future. Things have to change because the way the enterprise operates and performs has changed. In many ways, we’re all leaders now.

The democratisation of leadership

As organisational structures flatten, and cross-functional teams become more important for implementing business strategy, the lines of formal leadership are becoming increasingly blurred.

These days, more and more people who don’t hold a formal leadership title are being expected to step up to the leadership plate. As front-line leaders, they’re having to deploy many of the skills traditionally utilised by senior or mid-level line managers. That could include coaching co-workers, collaborating with peers across the business to solve problems, or contributing to driving innovation.

Indeed, 95% of the organisations that recently participated in a study said that employees who are not in a direct supervisory role now need leadership skills. While 96% confirmed that their employees are assuming leadership roles without a formal leader designation.

Cascading the leadership learning that’s required to an ever-widening pool of employees is proving problematic for many organisations, however.

Closing the leadership development gap

It seems that many firms have a long way to go when it comes to pushing leadership development down the organisational ranks. Research shows that it’s still currently the norm to primarily target senior (73%) and mid-level (81%) leaders – with individual and non-management contributors (35%) very much at the back of the queue.

Worse still, they’re struggling to overcome a number of road blocks when it comes to building the new digital economy competencies and capabilities that will be vital to the organisation going forward. These include helping leaders keep up with the influx of new technologies across the organisation; enabling them to lead change within their own teams and in relation to customers and partners; or accelerating the creation of enterprise strategies.

To close the competency gap, organisations will need to find cost-effective and affordable ways to develop all employees and make it easy for people to consume the skills they need – at a time and pace that works for them.

Technology delivers an agile solution to the leadership training challenge

Learning and development technologies deliver the agility that today’s organisations need to enable and empower leaders, no matter where in the organisation they are located.

Today’s L&D platforms make it easy to serve up learning in multiple modalities and provide options like self-paced and interactive learning or mobile-enabled skills acquisition that enables people to optimise each and every learning opportunity.

Plus, they make it easy for L&D teams to curate the content and development resources they need at speed to address fast-evolving workforce needs or skills gaps. By connecting learning sequences to performance objectives leadership behaviours can be managed and evolved in line with changing organisational cultures.

When it comes to building skills for the future, embracing digital learning platforms is proving a way forward for many organisations that want to ensure that their people have the skills to adapt to a digitalised work environment.

Interested in this topic? Read Training pitfalls: why so much leadership development doesn't work.

Author Profile Picture
Agata Nowakowska

Area Vice President

Read more from Agata Nowakowska

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