Basketball great Michael Jordan is credited with saying, “Some people want something to happen; some people dream it will happen. And some people make it happen. Those are the true leaders.” Because if the history of the modern business world has shown anything, it is that the transformation of an organization begins with the transformation of those who have to manage that change. Workplace optimization expert Aaron Rodriguez explains how leadership should be exercised in the digital age, and what soft skills the leader should possess.
One might think that an organization undergoing change needs a steady hand, someone with digital skills who also brings together vision and experience, and who can chart a sensible path to navigate it with caution and competence. However, Rodriguez points out that none of these characteristics matter as much as one might think when sketching the sketch of the digital transformation leader.
Creativity, curiosity and knowing how to manage ambiguity also appear as highly desirable traits. Soft skills that are certainly not so soft anymore. Digital transformation is not a single process, as technological changes are continuous. The expert provides six tips for leaders facing the task of digitally transforming their company.
He suggests that leaders should be a catalyst and not a planner. Leaders must encourage, and even accelerate, change rather than plan for it. This means setting the conditions for your organization to reach its goals and then guiding your company through continuous learning, pivoting as necessary.
“Leaders must become comfortable moving forward with ambiguous and incomplete information about what is going on around them and the potential ramifications of their actions,” Rodriguez suggests. “They must learn to view their decisions and actions as working hypotheses that they can only validate by gathering feedback on their impact as quickly as possible.”
Then comes trusting and letting go. In today’s world, the ability to orchestrate collective action has never been more relevant. Leading in the digital age is an exercise in trust. It is about inviting employees to participate in decision-making and creating a culture that makes people feel confident enough to take risks and act on behalf of the organization’s interests.
You also need to be an explorer. With so much change around them, leaders must be curious, tirelessly searching. Leave the office and not “live in a bubble.” But at the same time, they must have the humility to ask questions and learn from internal experts and digital natives at different levels of the organization.
“In a word, leaders must be familiar enough with emerging technologies. They will be able to ask the right questions regarding opportunities, risks and legal and ethical danger areas, and establish the boundaries to guide the use of digital tools,” Rodriguez suggests.
Demonstrating courage must be paramount. Leaders must learn to experiment and live change themselves in order for their organizations to thrive. To become comfortable with the inevitable mistakes and unconfirmed hypotheses of experimentation, leaders need a new attitude toward risk. Avoiding opportunities just to avoid failure is perhaps the most dangerous position to adopt in the digital economy.
A true freewheeler must be ever-present. Emotionally engaged and communicating openly and authentically. Therefore, they must have characteristics such as empathy, to monitor employee stress and anxiety and try to prevent overload and burnout.
Vulnerability is necessary to be comfortable with emotionally charged interactions, not only with employees, but also with customers and suppliers. They must also be self-aware to create space for slow thinking in a fast-moving world.
And finally, leaders must live the values with conviction. Many employees will resist changing their mindset, behavior and skills unless they appreciate the value of doing so; leaders must be clear not only about what they are doing, but also why they are doing it.
On the one hand, they need agility and courage to adapt to evolving circumstances, but they also need determination and discipline to lead a company toward digital maturity. The only reasonable response to the changes in digitalization is for leaders to adopt a learning mindset and show generosity to others and to themselves.