Leadership is Different in the Digital Age
CEO of ParkEngage
In the Digital age, what makes a leader has significantly changed. Anyone who has the will can lead, and attract followers, with any quality he/she possesses. But only the leaders who possess the foresight through analysis, the ability to quickly react and even cause the change, at the digital pace, self-awareness, and an unwavering focus to put success of their stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders, and society) first can sustainably lead an organization and are the true leaders.
Although a leader and manager are very different personalities, they are truly symbiotic, and one would fail without the other. Behind every Hannibal victory, there was a Maharbal, Mago, or Hasdrubal. Behind every innovation Steve Jobs gave to the world, there was a Tim Cook. Leaders see into the future and set the direction and strategies to get there. A manager executes the leader’s plan and stays focused on the details.
Motivation goes back to the “What makes a leader” question. With things changing at the digital pace, what was good yesterday is literally out-of-date today. With few barriers to entry, new competitors surface every day. With the free flow of information, stakeholder needs and expectations change daily. In such a changing world, one does not need motivation to see things anew every day, things are literally new every day. The question is whether one wakes up, ready to take that change head-on, every day, or not.
When the pandemic hit back in 2020, it reminded us that we humans are only used to gradual change. If we look at our science and technologies over the centuries, we find that every innovation is really an evolution of the previous one. But the pandemic changed things overnight, disrupting industries, and giving rise to new ones that were dissonant on evolution timelines. That’s my biggest challenge - how to internalize large datasets to stay on top of the next dissonance.
“C” titles do make a difference, but not always with a desired outcome. It’s the person behind the title that really makes the difference. “C” titles, by virtue of their description, empower the person holding that title. But they also restrict the person to the silo created by the title, which is great if the person in that role is a true manager. A true leader will always grow beyond that title in
the interest of the organization and its stakeholders.
The digital world has broken all the geographical and cultural barriers, along with scientific and technological barriers. Gone are the days when one leader could be the all-encompassing leader. This is the age of “specialization.” If I could, I would want multiple leaders who specialize in certain traits. Two that would be on top of my list would be Steve Jobs for his passion for the customer usability of his products, and Elon Musk for dreaming big. Of course, with just these two leaders at the helm, only two of the four previously mentioned stakeholder types would be well-served, whereas employees and society, would stay under-served.
A successful team starts with a clear vision from the leader, and the team’s trust in the leader’s vision, followed by the unambiguous definition of priorities and plans from the manager. When the team works toward such common goals, it thrives when the organization succeeds. At the individual team member level, the opportunities to learn and grow must also be aligned. This is something that smaller, agile, and cohesive organizations are able to provide most efficiently.
I am fortunate that I do not need to re-invent myself daily. A mix of pessimism and optimism keeps me going always, and prevents me from falling into the trap of complacency. Pessimism that although competition maybe behind today, they are certainly close behind us, and pessimism that the customer loves our products, but would they tomorrow if we don’t do better? There is pessimism that if we don’t move fast and succeed, can we still motivate our employees who thrive on organization’s success? And there is optimism that since we have the strong will to succeed, we can do anything. //
Raiv Jain is CEO of ParkEngage