Leadership is a highly desired attribute that has been revered for centuries and been the hallmark of successful individuals and organisations. For several years now, whenever the topic of leadership has been discussed, the credo of ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ has been debated by every academic and professional practitioner. Over their lifetime, the more successful market leading organisations would have all faced this debate and succeeded in disrupting their market to gain competitive advantage. Although many of these endeavours would have undoubtedly relied on good leadership during times of disruption, few have been exposed to leading an organisation in the face of the challenges and opportunities posed by the myriad of disruptive technologies we are presented with now. Given the pace of technological evolution, if organisations and those leading them fail to recognise and appreciate the potential of these disruptive technologies as well as the challenges they pose, it is likely that they are going to be left behind. Leading private sector organisations (Amazon, Google) and governments (China, the UK, the US) are already exploiting disruptive technologies.
India has projected itself in the global setting as a major hub for technological advancement and development. However, there is further potential for Indian organisations to leverage disruptive technologies such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and blockchain in order to out-innovate and out-execute established standards and outperform their competition both nationally and globally. To do so, having a forward-thinking mindset and skill-set is imperative.
Becoming a successful leader in the digital era is not a straightforward journey, no matter your background. It demands the ability to spearhead transformative change that disrupts established organisational norms and culture and personal traits that can inspire others to share your common vision. It also requires a personal transformation that many will choose not to make and also a style that concerns putting people-first and approaching each situation as circumstances change. In this context, willingness to be more daring and prepared to explore new opportunities rather than reacting to potential changes imposed by technology is seen as a key differentiator for success.
Those associated with management education have all attempted to identify the attributes that are needed to succeed in the digital age. According to the American Management Association (2018), aspiring leaders in the digital age should develop several attributes that differentiate them from successful leaders of other eras. These include:
* Leapfrogging mindset with the intent of ‘changing the game’ and creating or doing something radically different;
* Ability to push boundaries by finding creative solutions and opportunities within seemingly impossible challenges;
* Being data-intuitive in times of disruption where robust data that tells a clear story rarely exists;
* Ability to plan adaptively while celebrating successes and viewing setbacks as learning opportunities, not failures;
* Willingness to savour surprises in the face of unexpected technological developments, competitive moves, customer comments, economic and political shifts, and other unforeseen events.
According to INSEAD Business School, ‘digitalisation may require a reformulation of the firm’s mission, and continuous development of business strategy together with the ability to manage a process of continuous change within the organisation.’ From both global and Indian contexts, these attributes should be recognised as key tools to facilitate creativity and breakthroughs, within teams and organisations operating in the digital age of disruptive technologies.
Leading an organisation is not a piece of cake. Whether you are in the leadership position or aspiring to be in one, there are key themes that need to be recognised to be a competent leader in the digital era. A clear understanding of different leadership styles and the skills associated with good leaders is vital. In today’s time, when disruption technologies are evolving, every leader needs to have the knowledge of their potential and how those technologies may end up affecting their own selves or the organisations they lead. A great leader is one who knows how to nurture innovative thinking and behaviour, and works towards managing outcomes rather than resources. As a leader, the easiest way to be the best is to reflect on your personal style and use the same to transform through technology-led disruption.
The author is associate dean, Planning & Resources, Faculty of Management & Law, University of Bradford, England