Digital Leaders Blog

A new report from the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation, an initiative of IMD Business School and Cisco, has identified four competencies and three behaviours that business leaders need in order to excel in an era of digital disruption.

The report entiled Redefining Leadership for a Digital Age, presents findings from a global survey of more than 1,000 executives across 20 different sectors.

The vast majority of leaders agree that they are caught in a technology-change vortex that is drawing in whole industries and creating disruption on an unprecedented scale. 92% of those surveyed stated that they are feeling the effects of digital disruption, with one-third rating the impact of digital disruption on their companies as "very significant."

Despite the quickening pace of digital innovation, less than 15% of leaders said that they were "very prepared" to meet the demands of a digitally-disrupted business environment. The majority of participants (almost 80%) indicated that they were "starting preparations" or were "fairly prepared" to tackle digital disruption. Less than 20% of respondents indicated that digital technologies such as analytics, mobile and social media are fully integrated into their organisations with 30% of respondents either rarely or only occasionally using digital tools and technologies

In terms of digital leadership, the report outlines the following "HAVE" competencies as the most important success criteria for senior executives facing a landscape characterised by digital disruption:

  • Humble - In an age of rapid change, knowing what you don't know can be as valuable in a business context as knowing what you do. Digital leaders need a measure of humility, and a willingness to seek diverse inputs both from within and outside their organisations.
  • Adaptable - In a complex and changing environment, an ability to adapt is critical. The global reach of digital technologies has opened up new frontiers for organisations, shrinking once insurmountable continental divides and erasing traditional boundaries between territories. Dealing with the cultural and business impacts of this requires adaptability.
  • Visionary - In times of profound disruption, clear-eyed and rational direction finding is needed. Having a clear vision, even in the absence of detailed plans, is a core competency for digital leaders.
  • Engaged - Painting visions for the future, successfully communicating these visions and being adaptable enough to change them, requires constant engagement with stakeholders. This broad-based desire to explore, discover, learn and discuss with others is as much a mind-set, as it is a definable set of business-focused activities or behaviours

These digitally-engaged executives are called "Agile Leaders" - those who have adapted and evolved their practise for an environment continuously disrupted by digital technologies and business models.

Nearly half (42%) of those identified as Agile Leaders said that they were making more informed business decisions as the result of well-directed data gathering, effective analysis and good judgement.

The three key behaviours which allowed Agile Leaders to successfully navigate disruptive environments are:

  • Hyperawareness: They are constantly scanning internal and external environments for opportunities and threats.
  • Informed decision-making: They make use of data and information to make evidence-based decisions.
  • Fast execution: They are able to move quickly, often valuing speed over perfection.

The report identified the following additional practices that Agile Leaders adopt in a digitally-disrupted business environment:

  • 26% of Agile Leaders use digital tools and technologies frequently, compared with just 7% of non-Agile Leaders
  • 32% of Agile Leaders seek disruptive approaches to deal with challenges (1% non-Agile Leaders)
  • 28% of Agile Leaders use virtual networks and forums (1% non-Agile Leaders)
  • 76% of Agile Leaders encourage their team to challenge their observations and opinions (19.4% non-Agile Leaders)
  • 27% of Agile Leaders make use of business simulations or scenarios to support decisions (1% non-Agile Leaders)
  • 26% of Agile Leaders take risks to speed up execution (4% non-Agile Leaders)

You can access the full report here

The above findings are bound to stimulate detailed debate in our forthcoming Digital Leadership Executive Programmes.

As always, feedback and comment are very welcome.

Jim H

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