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Focus on developing digital leaders

The gap between organizations needing effective leaders and having a ready pipeline of talented successors is a challenge facing CEOs and HR professionals alike. Adding to this challenge is the rise of digital disruption: advances in technology that outpace the ability of individuals, businesses, or public policy to react or benefit from such rapid change.

At the same time, customer expectations are increasing, with more needs and demands. How can business and HR leaders meet this challenge, especially given the continued evolution of the 21st century workplace?

To develop the leaders of the future, you will want to have solutions to address the gap between leadership needs and having a ready pipeline of talented successors. A good place to start is with an understanding of current trends and what they mean to the future of your organization.

While there are tons of reputable sources, one of the best we’ve found is the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report. We believe that business leaders will need to understand these trends in order to prepare leaders for the digital age.

We’ve broken down a few of these trends to help empower our readers, keep them informed, and give them the tools to understand the complexities of these trends.

No need to read the full report; we’ve provided you with the highlights you'll want to know about developing leaders in the digital age*.

  • Leadership capabilities (and leadership development) are not keeping pace with the ever-changing complexities of the digital age. Organizations today need leaders more than ever before, but they must build more agile, younger, and “digital-ready” leaders.

  • Leadership is less about the "art" of leadership, or about the “leader as hero,” and more about the challenges—technical or otherwise—that leaders are facing today. This is driven by the transformation businesses are experiencing through the switch to digital.

  • CEOs need to shift their mindset from technology driving value to successful leaders driving value. There is debate among executives around which is more important—the need to support technology or the need to develop leaders. Both are important, but the former often is an investment at the expense of the latter, which will impact future success of that organization.

  • This new type of leader, the digital leader, must under­stand how to build and lead teams, keep people connected and engaged, and drive a culture of in­novation, learning, and continuous improvement.

  • At many companies today, the leadership pipeline remains too top-heavy, preventing Mil­lennials from getting the on-the-job learning and development they need and then leaving organizations struggling to build their leadership pipelines ear­lier.

  • Innovation and risk-taking now define high-impact leadership. Risk-taking has become one of the most important drivers of a high-performing leadership culture. 90 percent of the companies reviewed in this report are redesigning their organizations to be more dynamic, team-work centered, and inter-connected. A different type of leader will be necessary to execute on these models; therefore, formal training is being supplemented and even supplanted by experiential programs.

  • Developing the digital capabilities of diverse leaders is the most important need for most organizations, but this doesn’t mean technical skills training. The suggestion is for leadership development to shift in three main areas, the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional:

§ Cognitive: Leaders will need to think differently by having the outsight to conceptualize possibilities in a digital world, handle increased cognitive complexity, think divergently (do things differently), and make decisions without having the full picture.

§ Behavioral: Leaders will need to act differently by adapting to shifts in power and influence, collaborate with and across diverse teams, value the contributions of others, and learn to get it right, while simultaneously trying, failing, and trying again.

§ Emotional: Leaders will need to react differently by embracing ambiguity, developing resilience and risk, and having the confidence to lead through change.

So, how will you help your organization "disrupt" leadership? Here are some places to start:

  • Develop an organizational leadership model that empowers the digital leader by focusing on concepts of innovation, growth, inclusion, teamwork, and collaborating through change.

  • Identify likely digital leaders, and whether they will be better educators, pioneers, or transformers. Not all digital leaders will share the same leadership capabilities.

  • Get accountability from the top down. Identify who is responsible to the C-suite or board for developing leaders as business strategy, and make sure they understand the urgency, value, and reward of developing digital leaders. A trusted partner or consultant can help with that.

  • Develop leaders faster (and younger). Despite the known need for a well-developed leadership pipeline, digital disruption and change isn’t seen as a leadership issue, but a business challenge. Give digital natives (younger, emerging leaders) development opportunities that encourage mentorship from senior leaders and use them as “reverse mentors” to help executives learn about technology and the changing digital culture

  • Encourage risk-taking and foster experimentation through strategic leadership programs that are interdisciplinary, focusing on innovation and new product services.

  • Move beyond traditional training and focus instead on a strategy of empowerment, culture, risk, knowledge sharing, and teamwork. Utilize external leadership experts and vendors that look beyond the “old model” of traditional leadership development.

  • Now that you understand the need for digital leaders, the leaders of the future, you’ll need to have programs and plans in place to provide those leaders with the development tools and training to help them lead through the digital workplace. We know leadership development is complex and we’re here to help. Explore some of our capabilities or reach out and let us know how we can help.

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