5 big challenges for leadership in the digital world

What executives should definitely pay attention to when operating in the digital world

Leadership in the digital world demands new skills and competencies from managers. Both dealing with digitization and initiating digitization processes. To ensure that you as a manager are fit and resilient for the future, it is advisable to take a closer look at the following points.

Digital leadership has a lot to do with digital processes – but not only. What good are the best digital processes and technologies if people reject them? At the turn of the millennium, SBB was already running a pilot test where passengers no longer had to buy tickets, but instead the route from the boarding point to the end point was measured via RFID chip and the route was automatically billed. The technology was there, but not yet introduced. People were not ready in their heads.

This is exactly what is needed in the digital transformation to take people along on the journey. In this context, executives in particular are called upon to lead by example, to hold the flag high, and to confidently inspire a longing for the wide open sea. In addition to all the new competencies related to new technologies and the changing structures, it is particularly important to expand and strengthen interpersonal skills while taking digital influences into account.

Leadership in the digital environment places completely new demands on managers, with the following five areas of competence deserving special attention:

1. Ability and willingness to learn – leadership.

At the turn of the millennium, the knowledge available in the world doubled approximately every 7 years. Today in 2018, it does so every 2 years. Likewise, the speed of learning has also increased massively. With the availability of knowledge in an ever-faster retrievable form, the learning curve is also increasing. But it is not only the employees who have to learn more, it is also the managers who have to face a massive challenge in this environment. Even if many “air pumps” still manage to hide in this environment, the longer it takes, the more difficult it becomes.

Today, successful managers are challenged to raise their own learning curve massively. In an environment where agility and holacracy structures are becoming more and more widespread, it is no longer the position once achieved that counts, but rather the corresponding competencies and skills that come to the fore.

This is not about accumulating information but rather about informal, applicable knowledge that is useful in the appropriate context. In the same way, the creation of environments conducive to learning up to the forcing of appropriate learning opportunities such as learning databases, digital learning opportunities, “best practice” examples up to the creation of a learning organization. (For many executives today, still equated with name-dancing).

Change is learning – learning is change

Regardless of the stage of change a company or a department is in, change is omnipresent and is forced through corresponding learning steps. The faster learning takes place, the faster the change and, above all, the ability to change progresses. The faster and more massive the change, the faster and more profound learning is required.

Create a new learning culture that meets the requirements through the necessary learning structures, learning formats and learning objectives. Set a good example and be the first to make intensive use of the opportunities. No, you should not motivate employees to learn. They are fundamentally motivated. Remove obstacles to learning and make sure they have a motivating learning environment. People are fundamentally curious – if they see a purpose in it!

2. Identification and meaningfulness – Leadership

In the agile digital environment, the boundaries between projects and departments are becoming increasingly blurred. Even across companies, links are emerging that are often no longer recognizable. In the process, clear responsibilities are often lost, which means that reference points lose their validity and lead to massive uncertainties. Thus, employees often lose their identification with the company and often the question of meaning arises in these moments.

In order to counter this, managers need to deal with the topic of corporate culture more than ever before. It is worth investing time and money in this area. Starting with the recognition of the lived culture, respectively the lived values up to the communication of a common vision in the form of “storytelling“.

Leadership plays a decisive and central role in this process. Principles, convictions and values must be communicated and exemplified.

3. Technological Readiness – Leadership

Technology has also found its way into personnel management. This puts leadership in a whole new context. Today, it is possible to communicate via various tools and aids. This is also possible across large distances, quickly and easily in a quality that was unthinkable just a few years ago. Managers can communicate in different time zones with employees in different locations at the same time and work on various projects.

Whether via conference calls, emails, chat or robots. Technologically, completely new possibilities are open to us. As a result, we have to relearn the skills needed to use these tools. Communication via Skype4Business or Webex alone requires completely new communication skills as opposed to physical meetings.

If you want to be fit in your management tasks in the future, you cannot avoid dealing with these media in the right way. This includes the right choice of media at the right time as well as the right choice of words and discipline in corresponding conversations. Particularly with larger groups, structuring meetings, keeping all participants on track, documenting them in writing and creating commitment.

Create the conditions for successful leadership by mastering the new digital leadership tools.

“The main skill of leadership at a distance in the future will be even more in relationship management”

4. The innovative rock in the surf – guided tour

In leadership roles, managers are increasingly feeling great uncertainty. Changes are happening faster and faster. Whereas in the past one wave passed by before the next one was on its way, today the next one follows just as the first one appears.

Restructuring is being completed in ever shorter time cycles. Innovation and agility are at every pillar and are demanded intensively. It is essential to remain capable of action, which naturally entails an ever-increasing willingness to take risks. Bigger and bigger projects have to be initiated faster and faster. Disruptive processes threaten to destroy the work and the wheel seems to turn faster and faster.

Despite all the uncertainties, managers are required to drive these innovation processes forward and to create the framework conditions for them to happen. It is also important to bring the employees along on this path. To create an environment for motivated action and to give employees the space where everyone can contribute their strengths and use them for success.

5. Digital Networking in Leadership

Digital networks are spreading, making the world of work and management more complex on the one hand and more transparent on the other. In the digital environment, decisions and changes spread at a rapid speed that was never possible in the analog world, which also leads to a completely new scope. By capturing these digital interactions in the form of data, they can also be analyzed. In this way, managers are also able to use the corresponding competencies and knowledge of the employees in a much more targeted manner. At the same time, it is also important in management to trust in the competence and skills of employees and to rely on them even in uncertain waters. However, these people also want to be much more involved in decisions and processes.

In this way, hierarchical structures are suddenly transformed into a knowledge and competence network that begins to breathe. It is then a matter of promoting the exchange of knowledge and fostering development and careers. Leading in the digital world or leading at a distance requires completely new competencies. Many of these competencies are already visible today. But we still have no idea about many of them. I am convinced that in the future we will be on the lookout for skills that we have no idea even exist today.

I am also convinced that leadership will be completely redefined. If speed and dynamism are in the foreground today, seniority and experience-based composure may well bring a new and high quality to companies in the foreseeable future.

A very big core competence will be changeability in leadership. The ability to react actively to changes or even to actively and proactively shape these changes.

Strategie, Change, Digitalisierung etc. – wo bleibt der Mensch? Mit welchen Methoden müssen welche Fähigkeiten und Verhalten trainiert werden damit Mitarbeitende fit für die Zukunft sind, beschäftigt Gerri Hagspiel seit über 25 Jahren. Gerhard Hagspiel ist ausgebildeter Managementtrainer und Business Coach und beherrscht den Spagat zwischen wissenschaftlichen Modellen und praktikabler Umsetzung excellent. Als Head of Business Development bei Performance Plus verantwortet er die Entwicklung von Lösungen und Angeboten im Bereich Mitarbeiterentwicklung und Performancesteigerung.

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