Technology has advanced rapidly in recent decades, permeating virtually every area of business and daily life. As emerging technologies continue to drive the transition toward a digital economy, they are affecting the skills and qualities that business leaders must possess to be successful. Any CEO seeking to ensure his or her organization’s relevance in the 21st century should have a full understanding of digital transformation, its influence on business trends, and its impact on society as a whole.
While some leadership qualities, such as emotional intelligence and the ability to motivate others, remain universally valued markers of skilled leadership, the digital age has introduced a number of new considerations for business leaders seeking to hone their skills. Here are a few ways that business leaders can better guide their organizations in the digital age:
- Develop digital fluency.
A business leader hoping to harness technology to drive innovation must have a working knowledge of the emerging digital tools that are impacting his or her industry. However, digital fluency extends far beyond a familiarity with the existence and function of new technologies. Rather, it comprises an understanding of how these technologies could transform a company’s existing processes to improve efficiency and enhance the customer experience.
Successful digital leaders approach their daily management activities from a digitally fluent perspective; they are comfortable discussing the value of technology with managers, employees, and industry partners, and they openly advocate for digital innovation within their organizations. It is worth noting that successful digital leaders need not be technology experts; It is imperative, however, that they approach both personal and business endeavors with a willingness to engage with the digital world.
Digital fluency also necessitates an understanding of technology’s impact on society as a whole. In order to spearhead digital innovation, business leaders must remain abreast of the ongoing global digital revolution and develop an understanding of the economic, social, and cultural trends driven by technology. By investigating how emerging tools, such as big data and cloud computing, are driving changes in customer behavior, financial operations, and public administration, for example, CEOs can obtain a fuller perspective of technology’s wide-reaching and transformative potential, and then apply this knowledge to digital transformation in their own organizations.
- Leverage data to inform strategy.
Big data is a digital concept that has had an incredible impact on the business sector. All digital processes produce data, and as companies continue to digitize additional elements of their operations, they gain access to an incredible amount of information. Effective digital leaders must learn how to make use of the ever-growing amount of data available to them, interpreting informational trends regarding customer behaviors, product sales, or employee productivity, for example, to improve the quality and efficiency of their business operations. A recent study conducted by Oxford Economics and SAP found that 78 percent of companies who qualified as “digital leaders” utilized data-driven decision-making processes, and these firms were also more likely to share decision-making responsibilities with a larger portion of the organization.
- Encourage collaboration.
Technology impacts all areas of an organization, and successful digital businesses integrate multiple digital touchpoints to enhance both customer-facing and internal processes. As such, digital innovation should be a shared goal for all of a company’s stakeholders, inspired by a top-down approach to digital transformation. Effective digital leaders understand that digital initiatives cannot be the sole responsibility of the IT department. Instead, they encourage digital competency and innovation throughout all levels of the organization.
Technology is creating numerous possibilities for more open, collaborative workplaces that encourage employee creativity and empowerment. “Bring your own device” office models, company social media pages, and cloud-based employee work groups are changing the way that companies operate and interact with their customers. However, business leaders must be willing to make necessary cultural and organizational shifts in order to take full advantage of these technologies.
Effective digital leaders must also possess a personal willingness to collaborate. The 21st century has yielded a shift from largely authoritarian hierarchies to more horizontal authority structures in which executives, civic representatives, researchers, and other contributors partner to deliver immediate responses to universal challenges. In this increasingly connected world, leaders gain influence by broadening their networks and expanding their informational resources. As a digital leader, it is important to know the limits of one’s own knowledge, as well as the resources—whether they are human or technological—that can help fill these gaps.
- Welcome experimentation.
Although emerging technologies can introduce new challenges in the form of implementation, security, and regulation, successful digital leaders must embrace their possibilities with creativity and confidence rather than reluctance. Innovation requires a willingness to make mistakes on the path to success, and business leaders should not dwell on or stigmatize digital failures. Instead, they should develop organizational frameworks to quickly identify ineffective ideas, understand why they did not work, and mitigate any negative impacts. By creating internal processes that encourage employees to freely share and assess new digital opportunities, CEOs can create an environment that invites innovation while tying their digital strategy to concrete data.