Is Digital Disrupting Your Leadership Style?
Leaders are at the helm of all things ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in an organization. When it comes to managing operations, leaders plan, provide insights, give directions and control the outcome. But things are not so straightforward anymore. Technology has disrupted the way leaders function. Yes, it’s true and if you still haven’t seen the ball coming towards you, the chances are you’ll get knocked out by it! Your culprits are digital tools and a barrage of information brought on by digitization.
Information has empowered employees, customers and investors. Digital tools have provided them with unbounded connections and networks. This has brought about a change in attitudes, behaviors and expectations. All stakeholders want to contribute much more than their defined roles. Employees want more ownership and recognition at work than to merely follow instructions. Customers are getting skeptical and want to participate in the marketing and development process than just being told what they should have and why.
As a leader you want to keep stakeholders engaged, satisfied and happy. Concurrently, you want to be in control. Now, here’s the catch – you can’t have them both. If you have to evolve as a leader in this digital age, you have to give up ‘absolute’ control and loosen your grip on the reins. You have to develop ‘digital’ leadership which is about relinquishing control, collaborating with stakeholders, and empowering them to take control. The more you empower others, the higher will be the payoffs.
How does a leader sail through this storm? What strategy does he adopt?
So if you are using a ‘commander style’ of leadership, you are in hot water. This style of leadership may still work in a manufacturing industry where you are delegating orders to blue-collared workers. But if you are functioning in the services industry, you cannot just command. You need to be a ‘communicator’ to engage and inspire employees and align them to the organization’s mission.
In this digital age, information is not the sole property of a leader. That’s why it has the potential to pay rich dividends if leaders can tap into the innovation and ideas of a broader set of people to create new intellectual capital. This ‘collaborator style’ of leadership allows innovation and empowers stakeholders to contribute towards the organization’s goals.
Then there is the ‘co-creator style’ of leadership. This allows other stakeholders to pursue their individual goals in parallel with the organization’s goals. The co-creator model is followed by aggregators such as ‘Uber’ and ‘Airbnb’. This style allows for innovation and rapid scaling.
Digital is not changing the basic tenets of leadership. It is demanding that leadership practices evolve. Digital requires a shift in leadership style from one of directives and buy-ins to ones grounded in empowerment and support. Leaders can still be at the helm if they harness the power of technology.