Covid-19 and digital transformation of businesses: Five facets that a digital leader should possess

Business leaders whose organisations have been in the middle of the digital transformation journey and others who may not have formally planned and committed to it are both having to steer their organisations carefully past the bumps caused by Covid-19 impact and navigating the digital tracks with finesse, being conscious of the risks associated at every step. What is of interest to note is that both categories of organisations have had to reorient their strategies around the digital factor which has occupied the core of business functioning in the last few months.

The calibre of leadership required for this journey is unique and comprises of layers of capabilities. In this context, the criteria of digital leadership Pearl Zhu has defined in her book ‘Digital Master’ seems most apt in the current times. She has described five facets that a digital leader should possess. One, thought leadership with the capability to be tough in facing the market and competition change. Two, creative leadership with the creativity and innovation mindset to formulate the idea into reality. Three, global visionary leadership that has the ability to provide direction and to become an orchestra in transforming the digital business transformation. Four, inquisitive leadership that has the ability to deal with the complex and dynamic ecosystem due to volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) factors and possessing the learning capability. Five, profound leadership to lead in complex times, so as to use their knowledge in interpretation, assumption and synthesising the information for decision making.

Rethinking customer, employee and supplier journeys using design thinking principles, nurturing innovation not only within the organisation but in the ecosystem in which the business thrives; demonstrating learning as well as change agility; recognising the importance of data and facilitating the culture of data capture and synthesis in the organisation and creating an environment conducive of transparency and collaboration within and outside the organisation – these would be the key tenets of successful leadership that would enable the organisation to find its way around the roadblocks along the way.

Leadership style and form that succeeds in born-digital organisations is very different from leadership required for organisations that are changing tracks from their time tested ways of doing business to embark upon digital transformation journey. Leadership in organisations undergoing digital transformation is different as the transformation journey impacts several dimensions of the business and therefore requires to bring together a gamut of experiences, skills and knowhow to put together teams and motivate them. This is primarily on account of the fact that the current times can at best be described as ‘fuzzy’ – calls for not only envisioning the future for oneself amidst the fuzziness – but for also enabling other various stakeholders who would be part of the journey to reimagine the future in the same way as the leaders do.

Further, leaders would have to take the risk of redefining the future from time to time on the basis of how technologies evolve and are redefining the industry and the society. Yet leaders would have to keep a sharp eye on the bottom line, define success metrics for short periods of time and be able to assess achievements against these every so often in order to build confidence with the teams and also redefine strategy and success metrics. Such complex manoeuvres call for exceptional capabilities that would have to have clarity of purpose and articulation of the ideas in the core of leadership.

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