Leadership has become the showpiece competence for executives in today’s globalized and digitalized economy. People today expect a completely different type of leadership compared to their peers only a few years ago. This not only concerns the increasing relevance of transformational leadership with its emphasis on appreciation, feedback, and empathy, but also the more transparent, tangible, and – essentially – measurable nature of leadership in a digitalized world.
In order to understand and perform this new type of leadership, all managers, male and female, need to become agile learners, with the aptitude for learning and change as a crucial meta-competence. When they possess learning agility, they understand that successful executives always adapt to new circumstances and challenges and respond to them with different types of behavior and new expertise and knowhow.
What does it mean when digital transformation is changing the nature of leadership? We can see that digital companies and digital elites think and work differently. The digital paradigm shift in the economy suggests that these companies will be the pioneers of future types of corporate culture, organization, and leadership. Digital leadership means transparency, participation, trust, flexibility, and many other factors that are bringing managers and employees closer together on a more level playing field.
Add to this the unique situation of diverse teams working together virtually across time and space by using digital means. Managers need to understand and work with this virtualized nature of collaboration and communication to keep their teams successful. How can they achieve this?
Transformational leadership is the first and foremost answer. It means that managers need to give their people confidence and a sense for the meaning and purpose of their work. Employees want certainty, especially in uncertain times. Managers need to be able to take decisions even when they have only limited information at their disposal. The role of their supervisors – on top of the many other traditional management tasks – is to be visionaries and mentors for them and to give their people targets to aspire to. For this, they need strong communication skills and enough digital competence to share and communicate their ideas via digital channels as well. The sense that people see in their work and in the work of their companies is a common element and source of identity across time zones and continents. We recognize: New forms of leadership expect a broad behavioral repertoire to match each given situation. Many different aspects of personality are affected.
The people in local teams are also asking increasingly about the meaning of their company’s work. Younger generations in particular want to understand the “why” – and their leaders need to have meaningful answers ready. Many managers today are in charge of teams or departments, where people from four generations are working together. This also demands a skilled instinct for the different expectations and backstories at work.
As leadership is turning from a neglected routine into a sophisticate core competence of managers, organizations cannot continue without a dedicated, shared notion of what it means to lead people. Each manager, wherever they are based and on which level of the hierarchy they might be placed, need to understand and enact leadership in the sense their company has committed to. Latest at this point, human resources management comes into the picture:
HR professionals need to become a creative force and get actively involved in strategic considerations. Their mission is to identify and develop competent executives and to win over and retain the best talent for their organizations.