Leading a Genuinely Digital Organization

Leading a Genuinely Digital Organization

In this new world, you need to realize that real talent is too valuable to suppress. Your people can meld reality with creativity to determine what is best for the customer.

Surely all organizations are digital? What company today doesn’t have a website, email system and even a mobile app?

As I indicated in my opening column, digital is much more than just embracing technology to do business at a lower cost. And it’s not just about gathering heaps of data for decision making purposes. As important as these are, the implications of digital are much more profound.

This column explores the changing nature of leadership as we transition from an industrial to a digital economy.

The Power of DigitalTowards a tech-savvy leader
Tech savvy is a relative term. Grandparents marvel at the dexterity of their grandchildren navigating a tablet. Software developers marvel at the tech wisdom of solution architects.

A tech savvy leader is not expected to know how to build an app, but to be aware of how an app can be strategic. Again, technology is a subset of being digital. And it is a very important subset.

Leaders who lack an understanding of the role technology plays in delivering competitive advantage will be left behind.

Today, more than ever we need CIOs to be true information leaders. As we get deeper into the digital economy, someone else from the C-suite may take on the information responsibilities if the CIO allows it to fall down through the cracks.

Follow the crowd

Traditionally, strategy was concocted in the boardroom and cascaded down the organization in the form of orders. The brains resided in the boardroom. Everyone else was an operative whose primary skill was to follow orders. Not so now. Real talent is too valuable to suppress. Your people are closer to the ground. They see what is happening in the market and can meld reality with creativity to determine what is best for the customer.

Traditional leaders need to share the lead. Centralized decision-making may well give you a sense of control, but it will create an arthritic organization. Empowering your people to make executive decisions at every level can ensure that your company can make fast decisions and become much more agile.

But doesn’t this just equal chaos? Sure, having a strategy attached to a three-year plan, is easier to manage. But today, a three-year plan becomes out dated in six months, and impossible to execute because of the speed of change that is happening in every industry.

Distributed leadership

Taking this one step further, by empowering employees, smart leaders can spend their time directly monitoring the behaviour of the market. This can be done passively through studying behaviour data. Or one could become a little more engaged and capitalize on crowdsourcing to determine next steps.

More ambitious leaders may go one step further and take up crowd shaping, whereby your services morph in harmony with the mood of the market, which if manage with care can result in you subtly leading the market. Perhaps this is really what is really meant by digital marketing.

Digital Leaders Get People

In a digital world, the role of the leader is to remove the obstacles that hinder people from doing great work. If you lead with that style you will be on the right track.

As the digital talent shortage becomes more acute, those who you manage will need to be treated like royalty if you are to retain them. Thus I contest that your people are more important than your customers in the digital economy. Great talent attracts great customers.

If you treat your people with the lightness of touch that sports agents treat their diva-like talent, you will get on just fine. But of course, your people need to be premier league talent to warrant the added cognitive overhead you now have to factor into your leadership model.

Pay attention

Being a business leader today is like being the captain of a fishing vessel caught in a storm. Increasing market volatility will ensure the storms we face will be increasingly longer and harsher. The notion of business agility is our ability to steer out of stormy waters and towards opportunity.

But it would be better to see the storm coming, so that we are not faced with escaping it. The term anticipatory business is gaining some traction. But I prefer the term attentive organization.

Anticipatory implies a sharpening of the senses for what might happen. Anticipatory implies laser focus. Attentive implies soft focus. We are not caught off guard by anticipating a threat different from the one that is standing before us.

Bottom line. Digital leaders take nothing for granted. Including competitive advantage. Healthy paranoia, if there is such a thing, is the new leadership condition.


Many organizations are already operating this way. They tend to be new or have been blessed with visionary founders.

This type of leadership is not easy. It is especially difficult if you are presiding over an ‘industrial era’ factory, whether it is furnished with conveyor belts or cubicles.

Ade McCormack is a near futurist, digital strategist, keynote speaker and author. He is a columnist focusing on digital leadership. He has written a number of books, including one on the future of work, (Beyond Nine to Five – Your Career Guide for the Digital Age). He has also lectured at MIT Sloan School of Management on digital leadership.

For more information on Ade, please visit www.ademccormack.com.

Becoming a digital organization will require new leadership skills combined with connecting people, processes, data, and things. Every country,
city industry and business is becoming digital to leverage the unprecedented opportunities brought about by the Internet of Everything.


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