Agile leadership is needed for the digital economy

The digital revolution is redefining the skills and competencies needed to be a successful leader in all industries, including resources.

Mohan R Tanniru’s work has demonstrated how digital leadership enables firms’ to deliver value through digital services. This sounds straightforward in theory. But in practice, in a customer-centric environment, these organisations need to be agile enough to adapt quickly to changing attitudes and the customer sentiment analytics that digitalisation has made available.

Digital leadership is often used interchangeably with technology leadership. Although the two disciplines are closely related, they are distinct in terms of application and strategy. When we talk about digital, we are referring to the information and images carried in the ones and zeroes of binary code. Technological leadership, on the other hand, relates to the machinery and equipment that emerges from the application of knowledge.

The crucial role of the digital leader is to foster innovation and understanding of the product lifecycle in a way that places the customer at the heart of the process.

In Leading agile transformation: The new capabilities leaders need to build 21st-century organisations, from McKinsey, the authors argue that leaders in the digital age need to consider their companies as living organisms. They must adapt and evolve to ensure they survive and thrive in an increasingly dynamic and challenging business environment.

This means that leaders must ensure agility within their IT systems and the broader business architecture if they are to respond to rising customer expectations, often while maintaining a traditional supply chain.  

Management in the twenty-first century has been turned on its head by the insights of Agile Management, generating a whole new lexicon of buzzwords. But at its heart is a pragmatic approach that favours lean cross-functional teams that use an interactive project management strategy rather than the more traditional waterfall approach.

This new style requires leaders who demonstrate active listening skills and empathy in their behaviour and leadership style. The agile leader creates an inclusive culture in which they draw on the capabilities of team members and where ideas flourish.

Agile companies break free of the silos and hierarchies of traditional organisations, creating networks or creative, autonomous teams. This requires a shift in the mindset of leaders and their philosophy which is at least as fundamental as the change in the organisation structure.

Leaders who wish to thrive in this environment must take responsibility for transforming themselves, through their relationships, their openness to new and diverse ideas, setting stretching targets for themselves and their teams, and by developing an understanding of the customer journey.

The teams they lead should be perceived as autonomous businesses in their own right, serving internal and external customers and empowered to innovate their business model, structure and strategy to meet customer needs better.

Those leaders unable to transform, unwilling to empower their teams, and incapable of keeping pace with the pace of change that is continuously being accelerated by digitalisation, Big Data and automation, will soon become irrelevant.

Fernando Rodriguez, General Manager – South America

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