Leadership in a Digital World

von Karsten Drath

One could think that digitalization is all about technology and disruptive business models. Yet this is only half the truth. Digitalization requires also a different kind of leadership. One of the major parameters that changes in a digital world is the speed and the magnitude of change. Today new business models - powered by technology - ignore proven market rules and turn many industries around. Want examples? The largest taxi company owns no vehicles (Uber). Also today’s most popular media owner creates no content (Facebook). The biggest retailer owns no inventory (Alibaba) and the largest accommodation provider owns no real estate (AirBnB). But it’s not limited to the consumer world. Also, one of the fastest growing CRM-companies makes no software (Salesforce) and financial giants like JPMorgan are scared to lose business big time against Fintech startups (Lending Club, OnDeck). And so forth. Market dynamics are becoming more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. 

The VUCA-World

The US-Army has coined the acronym VUCA for such unpredictable environments. They require organizations to adapt to their environment much quicker and be more agile overall. They require them to learn faster to adapt to the new normal. It also forces leaders to fly by the seat-of-their-pants and improvise instead of strategize. More and more companies are letting go of five to ten year plans because they just make no more sense. In turn company’s org charts are becoming more and more fluid. They mirror the external disruption. But people can only take so much change and uncertainty. Leading with more pressure and authority won’t make it work this time. 

Trust is Key

So how do you get people to follow you in times were nothing is certain anymore? The answer is TRUST. More than ever a leader in today’s world needs to earn the trust of his or her people. To the degree in which reliable structures and predictable environments are diminishing the more trust needs to be there in order for people to give their best, keep on learning and not play it safe. To earn trust digital leaders need to show more of who they really are. They need to connect to their people emotionally and be credible as a role model.  But also today’s leaders need to trust their people more. Given the rapid changes in the industry traditional hierarchical thinking just won’t cut it. It is just too slow. Leading in a digital world requires more empowerment of people and more cooperation across organizational silos. After all reengineering, restructuring and rightsizing simple and plain trust is the big untapped resource to maintain your competitive edge as an organization and as a leader. 

How do You Change?

But how do you do that? How do you make people trust you? How do you reflect upon your leadership style or even develop it further? Well, you can try it by yourself, attend trainings or mimic role models. And you can work with experts who have specialized in helping leaders improve their leadership behavior. Leadership Choices is supporting leaders to grow by providing a global executive coaching offering. Our worldwide pool of seasoned business coaches has helped many hundreds of leaders to connect to their people more effectively, create more trust and realize untapped potential.

Karsten Drath works with top managers and their teams to improve their leadership effectiveness and resilience. He is a certified Executive Coach and Psychotherapist, a published author and keynote speaker, and is one of the Managing Partners of Leadership Choices, an international consultancy focusing on leadership development at Top Management level. Looking back on more than 15 years of own leadership experience in several international roles he knows the challenges that come with the executive lifestyle and also how to cope with them.