Leadership Excellence for the Digital Age

10 tips for converting possibilities into opportunities.

Leadership at the helm of progressive organizations is becoming increasingly difficult with the lure of efficiency-driven technology, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), significantly impacting the corporate landscape. Consequently, corporations are frantically searching for the elixir to attain/sustain leadership excellence for the digital age to ensure that promising possibilities are converted into gainful opportunities in a timely and effective manner. Here are 10 tips for moving purposefully and robustly in the respective direction:

Tip #1

Being a visionary isn’t enough; be a futurist.

“We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost” was the insightful remark uttered by the then-CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop, at the press conference for announcing the respective acquisition of Nokia by Microsoft. Nokia achieved the vision of being the global leader, however, it couldn’t capitalize on the future of digital communication due to its excessive inward focus instead of embracing the vast openness of an evolving ecosystem that opened wider horizons for its competitors to delight customers with the new normal of a platform-based hand-held device pioneered by Apple.

Tip #2

Invest in open and flexible talent management systems that allow breathing space for free thinkers and trendsetters.

Conventional talent management systems are designed to be directional, disciplinary, and dedicated. However, the digital age mandates timely and astute innovation, which requires the magnanimity of enterprising experimentation that beckons trendsetters and free thinkers who are allowed to stretch the boundaries of acceptable norms in converting possibilities into opportunities. Some progressive organizations have developed separate functional entities to accommodate such initiatives that are not aligned with the customary running of the organization.

Tip #3

Be welcoming of the increasingly sensitized and connected world.

The world has been steadily shrinking in terms of rapid communication, knowledge transfer, and wide connectivity. Every Internet-savvy person has a stake in the global context due to the extensive diffusion that has brought relevance to isolated/marginalized communities and opened organizations to the glaring spotlight of corporate accountability from multiple perspectives, e.g., United Airlines being humbled by a customer who made a video of his predicament “United Breaks Guitars” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo). Therefore, organizations with an eye on thriving in the future are well advised to proactively embrace the consequences of their actions in a more accommodating and responsible manner.

Tip #4

Don’t undermine innovation with technology by marginalizing the human factor.

Technology is highly addictive due to the promise of problem solving and comfort, especially, when aligned with customer needs and expectations. However, within the corporate realm, a key mistake committed in the exuberance of adopting and adapting to technology is the neglect of innovation or simply tying it with technology for meaning the same thing. Innovation is a cardinal humanistic concept that refers to astute application of human ingenuity, whereas technology is a consequential mechanistic tool that enables the efficient accomplishment of targeted tasks/assignments/responsibilities. Keeping the human factor in prime position while charting the course of a prosperous future in the digital age ensures internal harmonization in congruence with the optimal technological solutions.

Tip #5

Ingrain Diversity & Inclusion as a core part of the organizational culture and instill confidence-boosting measures (CBMs) to drive fear out of the workplace.

Consistently progressive, suitably paced, and reliably profitable growth in the digital age is increasingly dependent upon the richness of the Diversity & Inclusion factor in the corporate domain. A receptive organizational culture buoyed by core values and complemented by astute talent management strategies can go a long way to benefiting from the “simmering” talent, often unnoticed in organizations, for achieving/sustaining a competitive advantage while ensuring a reign of unabated positivity in the workplace that incentivizes a sense of belonging and engagement for those yearning to unleash their unexplored potential.

Tip #6

Make sure succession planning and management is impartial and transparent.

Established leadership theories and vibrant management practices of the past are being relentlessly tested in an era when profitability is no longer a guarantee of sustainability and huge conglomerates are constantly looking over their shoulders with nervous anticipation of becoming irrelevant because of ambitious startups. The future of progressive organizations in the digital age, more than ever, hinges upon corporate leaders assuming the mantle of enlightened statesmanship, rather than clinging to the prevalent status quo of regressive politicking.

Tip #7

Cultivate high-commitment employees (HICOs), rather than high-potential employees (HIPOs).

An extrinsically driven assessment, the HIPO approach frequently blamed for eroding the morale of diligent employees and incentivizing the cannibalization of peer careers to secure progressive career advancement. It is more prudent to cultivate HICOs (https://www.peoplematters.in/article/leadership-development/from-hipos-to-hicos-a-new-evolved-approach-13384), intrinsically driven employees who are inherently engaged and hard for opportunistic competitors to poach.

Tip #8

Inculcate mentorship as a mandatory element of senior management’s performance appraisal.

The significance of having a good mentor cannot be overstated for blossoming talent as it lays the solid groundwork needed for keeping potential successors focused and galvanized toward maximizing their value addition for the organization while carving an admirable career for themselves. Therefore, it is imperative that senior management should be mobilized for the mentor-mentee network and the level of success in such initiatives gauged as an essential element of their performance appraisal.

Tip #9

Convert aspirational employee engagement into inspirational employee engagement.

Most progressive organizations tend to start requiring employee engagement, rather than expecting it as a natural offshoot of an enterprising culture based upon robust values. This has the downside of becoming a job specification, which brings into play “shrewd actors” who are enticed by the incentive-driven external motivation of gaining associated rewards and recognition. Consequently, the glamorization of employee engagement often eclipses the voluntary initiatives of the truly engaged employees. Therefore, an inspiration-based approach is generally a more enduring option than an aspiration-based approach for assuring sustainable employee engagement (https://www.peoplematters.in/article/performance-management/engagement-uninterrupted-achieving-sustainable-employee-engagement-13253).

Tip #10

Befriend failures for learning and embrace successes with caution.

Organizations that have the humility and astuteness to learn well from their missteps are the ones with the foresight for maximizing the probability of success. A few years back, the trusted business model of software licensing was stagnating at Microsoft as Apple and Amazon made significant strides in cloud computing and mobile devices to embrace the emerging trends of the digital age. However, Microsoft was able to self-reflect upon the changes that were needed to become relevant again and took the necessary steps, including bringing in a new CEO with an extensive background in cloud computing. Now it is again at the vanguard of current and emerging technologies, including strategic investments in AI-enabled products and services.

Food for Thought

The aforementioned tips are meant to open an insightful window into the verdant expanse of innovative thinking and astute application that refreshingly caters to the two critical competencies needed for organizations/professionals to stay relevant in the ubiquitous digital future:

  1. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable: This refers to effectively embracing foreseeable changes/unanticipated scenarios/disruptive chaos.
  2. Being uncomfortable with being comfortable. This refers to effectively overcoming intoxicating complacency from dominant market positions/stakeholder contentment/goal attainment.

Take a moment to step back from the daily grind and check your comfort level. Are you ready?

Murad Salman Mirza is an innovative thinker and an astute practitioner of areas within and associated with the fields of organizational development, talent management, and business transformation. He has lived, studied, and served in different regions of the world, including, the U.S., Australia, South Asia, and the Middle East. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/muradsalmanmirza


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