Leadership in the digital age

Digital skills are new skills for most people. Few are those who have been trained in digital during their university course or in school. And this is all the more valid for leaders. It takes 20 to 30 years to become a leader, and that therefore sends us back before the most sought after digital skills today are taught.

So how do you do it? Like being a leader when many of the professions of our employees, many of the skills required in the workforce to create value did not exist? To answer this issue, I generally evoke the notion of leadership imbalance. What do I mean by imbalance and why do I say that leadership in the digital domain obeys specificities?

When we hear leadership, we mean power, performance, management, vision, leader, but we also mean people, work, organization and inter-individual relationships. However, what about inter-individual relationships when technologies lead to managing differently, to communicate differently, when technologies change the work itself, change training.

When organizations are transformed, relationships between individuals evolve and become something else. The digital revolution is changing organizations, it is changing relationships between individuals, it is changing work itself. Consequently, if the relationships between individuals change, the methods of motivation, evaluation, training, are renewed. Career paths are affected. Leadership is changing.

We all took on the digital revolution head on. Digital is the era of shocks. Industrial shocks with upheavals in value chains. Managerial shocks with changes in organizations. Technological shocks with changes in relationships between individuals. Individual shocks with the arrival of new professions and changes in working methods. How can a manager calmly grasp the future when he is very efficient, but it is his function that suddenly changes, and he begins to see people appearing in his company who carry out trades in which he does not has never heard of, and functions, methods and tools that are completely unknown to him: Chief Data Officer, in charge of Data Lake, media planner, lead generation, hybrid cloud,

In this configuration, he himself is not in question, it is his environment that has changed, and his skills have suddenly dropped in terms of perceived value for his business. The perception that he has of his usefulness within the company is considerably reduced. The organization, management, leadership are largely responsible for this.

These upheavals have impacted us all, whether we are players in an already massively digitalized sector such as marketing or a sector which is not yet. These upheavals lead the leaders to take decisions in new situations, which for the most part they have not experienced before.

To make decisions is to generate imbalances. When an employee is in a position, that he is competent and that the decision to give him a promotion is taken, imbalances are generated. Imbalances in the department to which this employee belonged, because he leaves and this void must be filled; imbalances in his new functions because he will have to blend into his new role, put on his new outfit; and finally imbalances in the entire organization because if digital allows us to understand certain phenomena, it is the systemic dimension of organizations, all dynamics affect the whole.

And when a director appoints a CDO – Chief Digital Officer, changes the governance, the composition of his comex, and instructs the CDO to transform the organization, it generates imbalances by calling into question for a large part of the employees the his perception of the organization and how it works.

Indeed, these imbalances are all the greater when the company is in the transformation phase, and the employees have not been sufficiently prepared to understand what is going on; have not been trained enough to acquire the skills necessary to understand their place in the new organization; have not been acculturated enough to fully understand the evolutions that digital transformation is introducing into the culture of the organization.

Making a decision, making choices and executing them, therefore generates imbalances throughout the organization. When a manager promotes one of his employees, he sort of breaks the balance that existed, generates an imbalance. And this imbalance will lead to a reaction from employees and management, the purpose of which is to return to balance. When the manager gives training to an employee who belongs to a team, he creates an imbalance. Indeed, the team had built its own balance, the training and the skill development of one of its members has unbalanced all relationships in the team. This is at the team level, but the reasoning is the same at the service, function or business unit level.

The constant dance between balances and imbalances is the very essence of the dynamics that the leader must maintain. This is the leadership aspect of digital transformation. And this dance leads to modifying the modes of governance, with the arrival of new professions, like the CDO for example. So what is a CDO?

But beware, and the purists will see what I’m talking about, as King Lot said: “Nove sed non nova”. The way is new, but not the material. The modes of leadership are changing because the organizations, under the shocks of the digital revolution are evolving. However, directing people remains a matter of people, which should not be forgotten. We must therefore continue to consider an organization as a human group, a group of individuals.

Digital leadership is therefore to lead people, in a different context, with different perspectives, but still and always people. We arrive at nothing alone! 

Joshua Cooper

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