Leadership transition – Analog to the Digital age

One of the intriguing questions leaders ask me today is ” What has changed in leadership styles ? Why is there a need to change ? It is important to realise that we have moved from the analog to the digital age. The world around us has changed and so have we. If we have changed as humans then those who lead us have to change. There is a generational shift and expectations from leaders are different. The earlier we realise this, the better it may be for our effectiveness as a leader.

I have attempted to list six clear trends in our transition from the analog to the digital world and how it impacts us as employees and leaders. These trends are:

A. Sequential to Parallel – All our planning in life and work was sequential. Today we do not have the luxury to do so. Our thinking has to be parallel. A good example would be the time taken to launch a new car. In the best of times, it took 2 to 3 years from design to launch of a car. This was mainly because each step of design, development, prototyping, testing and launch was in sequential order. Today concurrent engineering, virtual reality, augmented reality etc ensures that we are able to do most of these steps parallelly. This has crunched the new product development time to months rather than years.

B. Hierarchical to Team based – Organisations were pyramidical. All the wisdom was believed to be residing at the top. The seniors led the way and the others mostly followed. It was inappropriate to think bottoms up and so on. Today, it has almost reversed. Organisations are team and project based. Hierarchy is minimal and ideas can be generated from anywhere. All attempts are made to take decisions at the lowest possible level and closest to our customers.

C. Perspirational to Inspirational – Leaders led by power and authority. There was a chain of command . Fear may or may not have been explicit but was existent in most organisations for the people in leadership positions. Today a successful leader has to be inspirational and lead by example. The moment we try to wield our power by status or position we are bound to be rejected by our team members. This is a soft change but critical to be understood.

D. Clarity to Ambiguity – All efforts in organisations were made to transition towards clarity and perfection. We had programs to achieve zero defect and six sigma in quality. Now these things are taken for granted. Our ability to deal with clarity is easy but it becomes more complex when we have to deal with ambiguity. Leaders who are not hassled by ambiguity are likely to be more successful than others.

E. Long term to Short Term – I used to work in a public sector organisation which had made a strategic plan for 25 years way back in the eighties. All organisations evolved vision and mission with at least a decade in mind. Today, most of us think from one quarter to another. In a lighter vein, it is called the QSQT ( quarter se quarter tak – meaning from one quarter to the next quarter). It is difficult to anticipate what is likely to happen in the short term and hence it may be unimaginable to think long term.

F. Known to Unknown journey – Today organisations are plagued by an uncertain and unpredictable environment, unlike the past. It is a journey for leaders from one unknown to another unknown. It is the ability of a leader to steer their team into the realms of the unknown, which could make them successful. It is like leaders who can show the beacon light in darkness, who will succeed not the others.

Leadership has moved from predictability to managing uncertainties. If one is able to thrive in chaos, the chances of success are higher than failure. Further, if failures are considered as learning journeys, leaders are likely to be more effective than in the past. The analog world was sequential and predictable. The digital world is disruptive and uncertain.

As in the photo above, the leader has to lead by example by showing the way rather than telling it.

Let us learn to lead the different way in the digital age.

S Ramesh Shankar

23rd August 2018

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