Nexford shines a light on leadership in the digital age

Mark Talmage-Rostron
11.04.2022·10 min read

Digital age leaders have the power to inspire, engage and lead others, but must focus on building their communication skills and encouraging autonomy among team members

The digital age is widely regarded as the time where more information is in the hands of so many global citizens, on so many devices both at work and at play. This has given rise to the term ‘hyperconnectivity.’ The Collins dictionary defines hyperconnectivity as the use of many systems and devices so that users are always connected to social networks and other sources of information. This is the time of digital transformation where leaders have to be cognizant of how their words and deeds can shape the dissemination and acceptance of information in the workplace.

In a recent Nexford University webinar, Angela Maiers the Founder and CEO of global non-profit organization Choose2Matter, and Nancy Rubin the Chief Academic Officer at Nexford University, dissected this revolutionary age of digital transformation and discussed what it means to businesses and its effects on individuals working in different verticals across many industries.

When it comes to digital transformation the expression of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ couldn’t be further from the truth. Massive advances in technology are driving digital transformation forward at an unprecedented rate and those that are following, rather than leading, will be left far behind.

As Nancy Rubin says, “There can be no doubt that technology is transforming leadership and putting a great deal of power in the hands of digital leaders to transform their organizations and as a net result, the definition of what it means to be a digital leader today is ever-changing.”

Transformation has no reverse gear!

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Angela Maiers uses an interesting analogy to describe digital transformation when she says, “When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly it can’t go back on itself. It will never revert back to being a caterpillar. It will never ever just be like an iteration of a caterpillar with wings, it’s a completely different being.”

So, when we think of transformation in a digital sense, whether from a leadership perspective, a learner perspective, or an industry perspective, we are fundamentally different in every single way. We are not only using different tools, different platforms, and different mediums, we are as human beings different because of this. We learn differently, we lead differently, we work differently, so it is a fundamental shift in how we operate every aspect of our lives, from getting groceries to making dinner, to ordering food, to connecting with friends, to the way that we work. That can be exciting and terrifying at the same time because complete transformation is letting go of what we know best.

Nancy Ruben denotes that all of that can and will happen, as long as we are open to becoming more agile individuals. “For leaders to stand out and get ahead to stay ahead in business they must build on their skill sets by adding more strings to their bows. There are so many new opportunities available in this space to be able to do that. This is how I would approach thinking about being a leader in the digital space. They are really important concepts to incorporate into how you lead.”

This quantum shift is what Deloitte is defining as the era of transformation, or the Fifth Industrial Revolution which despite the influence of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, is still human-driven. The pandemic shone a light on the human influence on transformation, including everything from self-awareness to improved mindsets and capabilities, to the way that people interact with other people. That is a huge part of this revolution to embrace. You have to ask what it is that makes you uniquely human. It is not your digital capabilities; it is your human abilities that is going to help mediate these platforms and these places.

 

 

The balance of power has shifted from organizations driving what their employees need to do, to employees driving what the organization needs to do for them, or face a raft of people voting with their feet. In the United States it’s being described as the great resignation, meaning that because of the temporary work arrangements that people had during the pandemic where they were able to work from home with fewer meetings and fewer conferences, people are deciding that they are not going back into the office, rather electing to work from home or adopt the now-common ‘hybrid model’ of working. It isn’t just about the technology that is driving that shift in mindset, it’s mostly about humans demanding that their basic rights be valued.

As always with change in an organization, there will be a necessity for leaders to step up and lead the charge, and they will have to be individuals who want to lead a truly digital company. If you are not a self-aware leader with modern digital skills, you are in massive, massive trouble. Employees want to be listened to, they want to feel heard, they want to feel like they matter whether they’re stacking groceries, or they’re the manager of the night shift. You must start taking those human conditions extremely seriously as a leader.

There’s no such thing as a voice unheard anymore. Average customers or average learners have so much power these days. As an effective leader, that ability to be an active listener forms part of your soft skills, and it is so important to open up the channels to really hear what people are saying.

But this does beg the question as to how do you convince your team that it’s important to be data literate and encourage them to upskill to cope with advanced digital working environments? As a leader in the digital world, you must be comfortable with reading data and making decisions based on data. You need to lead by example and show people that good decisions are made with the right data. That’s critical today.

There are three component parts of literacy, and they apply to financial literacy, critical literacy, web literacy, and data literacy. The first is being able to consume and comprehend what is being shared. You must understand when you get a statistic, or you get a number, or you get a conclusion from data, you’ve got to realize how to comprehend that, and what that means. That’s part of any literacy.

The second component of data literacy is the ability to not only receive and comprehend data but to also be able to translate the data in a way that your community will understand it. So, there must be a translation. That’s important.

But there’s a third component of data literacy that very few people talk about that forms the real key to power and literacy. What unlocks the power of literacy is the ability to rally others around your conclusion and around your belief. This is where your interpretation matters. So being able to humanize the data in terms of, ‘here’s why this statistic matters to you,’ ‘here’s why this is important,’ and ‘here’s why you need to ask specific questions to get people talking and invested and personalizing the data that matters most.’ This is Power to the people.

 

“We need data literacy as urgently as we need other literacies. We need diversity in the people that are being represented by the data and in the data science teams.”

Implementing a data driven culture

You may not be a data scientist, but you must know how to manage data scientists. So, it’s more about how involved you’re going to be even if you’re not doing the statistical analysis. You have to be able to manage and lead people who are doing that work, but then also, the organization must be able to understand and act upon the data. It’s a little bit more real-time than it used to be, so digital leaders need to be more agile in making data-driven decisions and become proactive rather than reactive.

The tangible skills required of a digital leader 

Technology can really empower leaders, but first, they must master the modern skills that are vastly different from those in the past. A typical skill from the beginning of time was a competency that you mastered, as you practiced it for a certain amount of time and got better at it. These days because organizational requirements are changing month by month as the business landscape flexes and reinvents itself, digital natives must learn new skills on the fly to thrive rather than survive.

 

 

 

These competencies are not only essential leadership skills, but they are also essential human skills. As an example, when you think of a company like Google, you might think that the number one skill is going to be coding, computer science, understanding algorithms, and mathematics. You’d think wrong, as 69% of the world’s most influential and admired companies, like Google, value curiosity, agility, communication, and passion over performance skills and career and education history.

 

So, to really understand and embrace anything about your brand, or you as a leader, you must understand and consider how you’re being perceived by your actions, by your invisible communication skills, by what you say, and by what you do. It takes a very competent person that is secure in who they are and what their values are to accomplish that, as most of the time we have managers who manage behavior, but don’t lead.

 

 

“There's an enormous difference between a manager and a leader, and a leader separates themselves through self-awareness.”

Modern leaders are applying digital transformation to their sector

To get the most out of employees, the modern digitally-savvy leader has to be an active listener, a data-driven decision-maker who is an agile leader, and a lifelong learner. Those are today’s vital skills that are necessary to lead in this time regardless of what field they’re leading in.

As a leader in the digital age, your integrity, honesty, and the trust that you earn from your staff, will not only make them like you, or admire you, it will ensure that they work harder for you, When leaders are not transparent, or they don’t demonstrate honesty and integrity, workers lose not just respect for them, they lose trust, become less loyal and more inclined to become a part of ‘the great resignation.’ If it weren’t the case, you would not have so many disgruntled, disengaged and desperate workforce wanting to do anything other than what they’re doing right now.

If you possess these power competencies, which are all about social and emotional dynamics in human beings, the ability to garner optimism, garner hope, garner trust, resilience, and integrity, you will become a leader whose staff would follow them through a storm and not think twice.

Digital transformation is not a buzzword, nor is it a flash in the pan. Its global importance in the workplace is continuing to reshape how we do business and how leaders should be motivating for and conducting that change. Looking ahead, it’s clear that digital technologies will more than ever play an integral role in shaping enterprise strategy and success. Meaning that digital leaders will need to sharpen their skills and focus on personal communication, facilitating change, encouraging digital literacy, keeping up with technology and managing ambiguity, and more than anything else, always driving innovation.

 

Being a more self-aware leader can mean the difference between being a manager and a leader. Read our blog to learn more and watch the webinar.

About the Author

Mark Talmage-Rostron

Mark is a college graduate with Honours in Copywriting. He is the Content Marketing Manager at Nexford, creating engaging, thought-provoking, and action-oriented content.

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