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Carol Wilson
Head of UK/Europe Communications, Media & Information Services
22 May 2018

Jack Ma, founder of the Chinese Internet giant Alibaba, is one of the most inspirational and best-known leaders of this digital age…but he was rejected by the Harvard Business School 10 times.

His enormous success – yet lack of formal management training – underlines the fact that leadership in this time of rapid technological change, is defined and lived much differently from how it used to be.

A required asset of today’s successful leader is a willingness and ability to create something entirely new – instead of operating within the proven comfort zone of the predetermined strategies used to grow, increase efficiency and reimagine processes.

Like Jack Ma, many modern leaders rise to the top through a killer combination of passion, instinct and talent. Acting “BIB” or carving out big, innovative and bold strategies that light a path toward business transformation is a characteristic that modern leaders must embrace now that digital technology is transforming every aspect of our economy.

Supply chain managers today, are being presented with a unique opportunity to transform their supply chain and their business as a whole. The choice is a simple one – transform today or forever disappear into oblivion.

Agile Leadership for Business 4.0

As business models are constantly reimagined, business leadership must evolve beyond hierarchies to create a truly inclusive and collaborative workplace capable of inspiring innovation and a performance paradigm of collective success.

This quality of modern leadership is defined by the Swiss Business School, IMD as ‘Agile Leadership’.

In the report Redefining Leadership for the Digital Age IMD proports four key qualities of today’s agile leaders:

  • Humility: Imbibing feedback and acknowledging that others know more than they do

  • Adaptable: Accepting that change is inevitable and that changing their minds based on new information, is a strength rather than a weakness

  • Visionary: Demonstrating a clear sense of long-term direction, even in the face of short-term uncertainty

  • Engaging: An uncanny ability to listen, interact, and communicate with internal and external stakeholders, whilst maintaining keen relevance shaped by market trends and directions.

In addition to these qualities, agile leaders display the key behaviors of speed: quick, data-based decision making ensuring fast execution and the valuing of speed over perfection, and hyperawareness: an instinctive sense of opportunity and threat and a keen sense of timing of for those all-important “windows of chance”.

These behaviors are indeed, counterintuitive to those of us brought up within traditional and now maybe, old fashioned, management techniques.

When collaboration is key

Successful leaders in this digital age are those that act “BIB” and are willing to take big, bold steps to embrace the unknown and to create an exciting, innovative future.

But how to integrate and encourage such new behaviors? At Ellevest, CEO Sallie Krawcheck reframed the hiring policy to embrace ‘culture add’ over ‘culture fit’. Krawcheck’s aim was to hire leaders with very different backgrounds to those already working in the business, recognizing there was a need to infuse different perspectives, different outlooks into the current team in order to accelerate behavioral change towards a new performance paradigm.

BIB leaders recognize they are not in this transformation journey alone and succeed in eliminating silos and “clubs” through building agile, collaborative ecosystems of peers and partners in order to propel success. It is a model where everybody wins. 
Just as the workplace is no longer confined by walls, the collective behaviors and values of our associates must be freed of traditional barriers in order to transform how teams and organizations perform and grow.

Diversity champions

Today’s brightest digital-age leaders seek-out and encourage difference. They are willing to explore and even exploit the unconventional in order to stimulate the true potential in individuals and organisations. They go beyond the acceptance of diversity to the actual promotion of such.

At Medtronic, CEO Omar Ishrak personally champions the company’s diversity goals. Top level ownership of diversity projects sends a compelling message that the leadership imbibes the need for diversity as a core business objective. Recognising that “a natural course” will not convert quickly enough to business transformation, Medtronic aggressively targets a global workforce where 40% of all senior roles will be held by women, while 20% of management and key, higher-level roles will be run by staff with ethnically diverse backgrounds.

From equality to equity

The digital-age demand for hyper-personalization of products and services demands an urgent and broad understanding of how to ensure success in the quest to offer anything to the individual – as he desires it. As a result, definitions of diversity have expanded. Gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, and citizenship are shaping the inclusion agenda towards achieving an inclusive business which is aware that there is no “off-the-shelf solution” to meet the needs of distinct groups or any individual. Where once a push for equality meant giving everyone the same thing, the new focus on equity ensures that everyone gets what is needed – or better yet, what is wanted.

Digital age leaders who genuinely strive to embrace inclusiveness, do not focus on simply changing the mix of people serving the business. They change themselves, asking what is required to transform and reimagine the performance paradigm of the organisation in order to first understand and then ultimately achieve the full potential of product and service market success.

Grooming the leaders of tomorrow

Today’s most successful leaders reap an abundance of rewards from the diverse talent base that they have created. Business 4.0 gives us a structure for digital transformation – but how to ensure that our leaders of tomorrow, next week and next year have the values and behaviors required to inspire and to ultimately convert technological revolution into business advantage? The “Survival of the Fittest” philosophy of the cowboy era of process optimization is clearly passé. Today’s BIB leader has learned that in the organizational garden, even the most robust of saplings needs conditions conducive towards growth. Careful nurturing, individual coaching and care within an environment that celebrates diversity and encourages informed brave, bold, yet collaborative behavior – ensures the unleashing of potential through the anchoring of a clear performance paradigm of collective success.

Great leadership – in the digital era of Business 4.0 – is unconventional at best. It is about living fast and leading large while learning to leverage the non-traditional leadership traits of passion, agility and inclusiveness.

About the author(s)
Carol Wilson
Head of UK/Europe Communications, Media & Information Services

Carol is VP and Head of UK/Europe Communications, Media and Information Services (CMI). In this role, Carol leads a business and IT services organization focused on enabling all aspects of digital transformations for Telecom and Media businesses.

Previously, Carol worked with the Deutsche Telekom's T-Systems, and was responsible for the development and delivery of global Field & Workplace Services for Clients across all industries and geographies. Carol has held Global CIO roles with the software industry leader SAP in Walldorf, as well as with the Swiss testing and inspection leader, Societe Générale de Surveillance (SGS).