Redefining leadership for a digital age

Experts have warned of a digital leadership void that exists which could cost their organisations dear in the era of digital transformation and disruption. Hats off then to Deutsche Telekom, which has introduced a training programme for its executives worldwide which focuses on successful leadership in the digital era called levelUP!.

The telecoms company explains that the year-long programme “zeroes in” on the management of “ambidextrous” company structures: in short, using intelligent management approaches to expand existing core business while at the same time creating space for innovation in parallel. Some 700 Deutsche Telekom managers from Germany as well as overseas are taking part in the programme.

Chief HR officer Christian Illek reckons that the pace of digitisation is producing organisations that are more agile and, as a result, leadership methods and behaviour are being redefined. “It is simply not possible to manage a group like Deutsche Telekom, with its 230,000 employees worldwide, in the same way you would a start-up,” he contends. “The trick is to manage core business efficiently while developing new digital business areas like the cloud, for example.”

Indeed, when Ford announced it was acquiring a major stake in the start-up Argo AI to help it become a leader in the field of autonomous vehicles, it spoke about the need to innovate at the “speed of a start-up” and this is clearly becoming a theme in many large, established organisations.

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The sentiments of both these organisations chime with Rialto’s call for leaders to acknowledge the digital age is transforming all areas of the business and to act now to ensure their organisations will be fit for the future. Moreover, the description of the so-called ambidextrous company is perfect when it comes to explaining how leaders must instil in their organisations the culture and agility more commonly associated with smaller companies while at the same time placing high value on experience and knowledge.

Such organisations do, however, need to make sure that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing and that is where good leadership comes in. Creating such a hybrid organisation is fraught with challenge but these must be confronted head-on.

Deutsche Telekom describes its new management programme, whose motto is “Educate!, Inspire! & Transfer!” as another milestone on its digital transformation agenda. Illek reckons levelUP will be key to ensuring managers are familiar with the “challenges and changes” of the digital world.

For many leaders, the digital world remains an unfamiliar if not an uncomfortable one to inhabit but time is running out. That major organisations such as Deutsche Telekom are putting such initiatives in place provides yet further evidence that the digital future is already here. Okay, it is a company that needs to operate at technology’s leading edge but for all of us, the need to be part of that same vanguard is fast approaching.


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