How to strengthen your leadership skills in a digital environment
Before the world morphs into a fully computerized society with intelligent robots governing countries and managing workforce, we’re still lucky enough to live in a little bit of both worlds: with AI, VR, AR, and machine learning rising to their heights and human leadership excelling in a digitized environment. Now is the best time to adapt to modern technologies by working on your leadership skills and changing them according to the needs of the modern age. In this piece, we’ll attempt to provide enough reasons as to why leadership skills are critical in a digital climate, and how you can work on them to succeed in your life and career.
Why work on your leadership skills?
Reason # 1 Speed and adaptability
Speed and adaptability are critical survival attributes: only the fast and the most adaptable organisms have evolved to live in the present age, others — think dinosaurs — vanished thousands of centuries ago. It’s your choice to either embrace the digitization or let your business die the slow and agonizing death.
The change, unless it’s a Russian revolution, should always come from the top-down, meaning it should be you, as a leader, who will pivot the company from its traditional values and methods to the fast-paced digital economy.
The social media, Internet of Things, mobile devices, and everything else “digital” or “virtual” infiltrate the minds of the people, changing both customer and employee behavior, as well as basic values, expectations, desires, and needs. This is the exact beginning of a new era of fresh and cutting-edge business models, advanced leadership theories, and a whole new generation of managers. Time to hop on this futuristic train, learn, adapt, evolve, and succeed.
Reason # 2 Transformation of a work environment
Fewer people work from the traditional office environment, more businesses adopt a hybrid model or go completely remote. We know what we’re talking about since we, at Soshace, have been a virtual company since inception. It’s understandable that some businesses cannot be fully or partly outsourced, although these are just a few, others — can definitely benefit from remote employment.
Because the workplace is transforming, so is employees’ behaviors and expectations. Managing hybrid or remote businesses comes with a new set of challenges: establishing remote company culture, nurturing communication between remote and office workers, thinking of ways to effectively use technology for monitoring, tracking, communicating with employees and customers.
Reason # 3 Fierce competition
As technology advances, the companies are forced to adopt the new strategies and methodologies to better reflect the present reality. The companies that stay with their traditional values of hierarchy, useless meetings, unnecessary reviews, and other antiquated policies will eventually lose in the long run. In order to adapt quickly, many organizations compete against each other, embracing new technologies or making their own, thus, it’s incredibly critical to join that fierce movement now, rather than later. Moreover, rather than just react and adapt, many companies invest in new technologies to outrun and outperform their competitors.
How should you improve your leadership skills?
Having understood the whys of digital transformation and the necessity for quick adaptability, it’s time to move on to the practical side of the problem and cover a few effective strategies for improving leadership skills.
Technique # 1 Work on your emotional intelligence
This strategy might seem like the least obvious, but as it often happens, the most important. According to the Google’s Project Oxygen report, which was aimed at identifying the key traits of successful managers, strong leaders are emotionally intelligent. What it essentially means is that it’s high time you learned how to nurture, communicate, and empathize with your colleagues and subordinates. While many of the traits pertaining to emotional intelligence might seem feminine, they are not entirely so. According to researchers from Lehigh University, emotionally intelligent leaders are capable of coordinating different groups and building stronger teams with a greater sense of camaraderie.
Another important part of the concept is that by embracing emotional intelligence, you’ll learn to quickly adapt to changes, behave in an agile fashion, rather than think hierarchically or follow a linear path.
Recommended reading: The Emotionally Intelligent Manager: How to Develop and Use the Four Key Emotional Skills of Leadership by David R. Caruso and Peter Salovey
Technique # 2 Embrace the concept of total leadership
The Total Leadership approach denounces the idea that you can only succeed in one way of life without sacrificing any other dimensions: if you’re successful at work, it so often happens that your family life suffers, and vice versa. Friedman, a Practice Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia, argues that any person can excel in all dimensions of life.
The concept of Total Leadership helps mitigate a range of problems that grow from having to trade-off different dimensions, like feeling unfulfilled because you hate what you’re doing, inauthentic — because you’re not acting according to your values, disconnected — because you stop communicating with your family, exhausted — because you try to keep up with too much work.
The concept is especially relevant in a digital world, where people tend to multitask on a daily basis and it often doesn’t work as smooth as expected. That is why you need to find a perfect balance between family and work.
Friedman proposes a plan to tackle the problems associated with trading off one dimension of your life for the other. First, you need to reflect on what truly matters to you — write down how important each dimension is for you: home, community, self, and work. Look for discrepancies between how important the dimension is and how you actually spend time on it. Next, brainstorm possibilities of improving your relationship for the dimensions that matter: think of several experiments which you’re going to undertake in order to achieve the ultimate goal of a perfect engagement with that particular area of your life (examples: turning off a cell phone during a family dinner, exercising three times a week, spending more time on a community initiative, etc). After you outline the list of experiments, narrow them down to choose only those that you think will work out or be the most costly, that is — you’ll regret if you don’t do them. After you’ve settled for the experiments you promise yourself to accomplish, develop a scorecard, which you’ll use to measure your success or failure.
Recommended reading: Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life by Stewart D. Friedman
Technique # 3 Lead for the innovation
The last step which you can undertake to develop your leadership skills in the modern age is trying to lead for innovation. What it inherently means is the willingness to take risks, motivating your staff, employing the creative individuals, allowing your team members to work on side projects, harvesting ideas, brainstorming, and overcoming resistance to change.
The thing with innovation is that it is life as opposed to stagnation which is death. The organizations that practice team creativity will survive and prosper, and those who resist the technology will decline and eventually disappear.
One way of embracing and coming to terms with innovative thinking is to think strategically, that is to plan for the future, even if it doesn’t seem attainable at the moment. But you as a leader, besides outstanding charisma, must lead the team for a certain future. Look at Elon Musk, even if he doesn’t end up on Mars, he cemented the idea of Mars in the heads of his employees, so I bet, the company as a whole, be it SpaceX or even Tesla, will end up on Mars someday.
Recommended reading: Leadership for Innovation: How to Organize Team Creativity and Harvest Ideas by John Adair
Digital Darwinism is here to stay and it’s time to embrace the evolution and join in the movement of digital transformation. This is the high time you learn how to adapt and change your way of thinking, management style, workplace environment, and develop the right leadership skillset.
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