The short answer to this question is: vastly different to the one of ten and even five years ago. While there will always be a set of core skills required by any leader, to be a successful leader in the digital age post-Covid-19 will demand a new suite of capabilities to successfully lead through unprecedented times.
Future leadership will require a fast track of digital transformations so these are synonymous with the business strategy not just stand-alone programmes.
This means leaders must understand the deep impact digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics and automation will have on their businesses today, tomorrow and into the future.
A digital mindset, therefore, is a vital part of a future leader’s make-up. This doesn’t mean becoming a techie but knowing how to leverage digital technologies to optimise business performance, create new business models and opportunities as well as disrupt markets and outperform competitors.
Leaders must also understand the importance of data and data-driven decision-making if their organisations are to make the necessary shift this decade.
Embedding digital into everyday working brings with it a raft of other demands in terms of capabilities: the speed at which it impacts means leaders have to be more agile and adaptable; the scope it offers requires leaders to be innovation champions and at appropriate times greater risk-takers to permit experimentation.
For many organisations, the scale of transformation required means they must be able to communicate and manage change more effectively. Many leaders will also need to be able to think and act strategically to ensure they maintain a competitive edge.
Leaders must also be much more attuned to their customers and familiar with the customer journey than ever before. If they fail to connect with the increasingly endorsed customer, they run the risk of missing business opportunities and losing out to competitors.
Another important difference is that leaders must do all of the above on an ongoing basis rather than as a one-off intervention, hence the importance of agility.
We are only at the start of the Fourth Industrial Revolution so new technologies and business models are a long way from bedding in. Experimentation and change are part of daily life and leaders must ensure the culture of the organisation can support this.
Resilience is another key leadership attribute required, in order to handle the demands being made by others and remain unfazed. For instance, a study by KPMG found that the majority of CEOs in the UK are frustrated by short-termism and the pressure from their boards to deliver results on multi-year digital transformation projects. Three quarters (72 per cent) cite unreasonable expectations for return on investment related to digital transformation.
So how well equipped are those who will be filling senior leadership positions in the coming years? A study conducted by Rialto Consultancy revealed that many leaders lack the necessary skills and capabilities to move their organisations forward in an increasingly disruptive marketplace.
The Supercharge your leadership skills for the future report found that one-quarter of leaders don’t feel sufficiently confident in their skills as a future leader and, worryingly, only 16 per cent ranked a digital transformation mindset as one of the three most important skills required by future leaders.
As recently as the start of 2020, many leaders were mentally and physically outsourcing digital transformation by passing responsibility for it to a chief innovation or digital officers, taking little or no responsibility themselves.
Worse still, in some organisations it has been siloed with IT. Neither is acceptable because the process is as much, if not more, about business transformation and culture rather than technology so will be an important element of post-Covid-19 leadership.
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