Why digital transformation demands a change in leadership mindset

Conventional leadership principles were not designed for the demands of digital transformation. Interestingly, we don't need to change what we think as much as how we think.
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Recently a key retail executive forecast that their industry will change more in the next five years than it has in the past fifty. Another executive believes society will change more in the next fifty years than it has in the last three hundred. A recent headline declared that, “We are approaching the fastest, deepest, most consequential technological disruption in history”, and Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering and co-Founder of Singularity University, has said that there will be fourteen internet size revolutions in the next decade. Whichever way you look at it, things are shifting… fast.

When you speak with the visionaries and entrepreneurs actually building the solutions of tomorrow, from on-demand retail to vertical farms, and ask how far into this new era we are, almost universally the reply is: “only one percent”. Imagine then, where we will be ten years from now? How about 50?

Major industries, from medicine to energy to travel to entertainment, are radically transforming, putting pressure on others such as manufacturing, construction, transportation, finance, education…frankly, all of it. What an extraordinary opportunity this presents.

[ Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

How to enable better decision-making

To do so, however, we need to cultivate the mindset, capacities, and internal compass that enable much more sustainable and powerful decision-making. Through years of work helping organizations and teams embrace and build a thriving future, I have come to clearly appreciate that we don’t need to change what we think as much as we must change how we think.

Our conventional version of leadership – the traditional one practiced de facto in most organizations today – was built to fit the demands of the Industrial Revolution. It is ill-equipped for the challenges of our increasingly digital and transforming world. Leaders have been taught to think and operate in centralized, siloed, hierarchical structures, to focus on efficiency and predictability in order to scale reliable, consistent delivery of products and services.

However, as we rapidly accelerate toward what I call the First Productivity Revolution, we must ditch the 20th century playbook and old style of leadership that we’re used to, and instead adapt to today’s mandate for breakthrough, responsive thinking by practicing Leadering; a dynamic and inclusive form of leading that instead focuses on building new, more expansive practices committed to human-centric innovation, regenerative solutions, and the creation of long-term value.

Why? Well aside from losing relevance, applying old mindsets to new, exponentially more potent technologies can create damage at a scale we never considered. The consequences of twenty-first-century mistakes will be even more difficult to clean up than the twentieth-century ones we are dealing with now.

So how can we get better at discerning what is necessary evolution versus what we fear are business-ending decisions? By thinking differently, we can use the power of these advances to build a better, safer, more inclusive “next”. To enable radical change, we need radical solutions. Accepting radical solutions requires a radical openness of mind… and heart.

A new mindset in action

We need to shift to a mindset framed by audacity and ingenuity as well as by compassion and humility; the innovations and technologies of the future will demand nothing less.

Examples of this leadership mindset in action might be extending benefits to full-time contract workers, experimenting with a four-day work week, or integrating mindfulness practices into your ways of working.

We are standing in a unique moment in time in which we have huge opportunities to impact our world in far-reaching ways. If we are only around one percent of the way into this next economic, technological and cultural evolution in productivity – and many of the things we thought we couldn’t do we’re realizing we can – let’s dive in and create the future we really want. For example, where we don’t just discuss “future of work” in terms of how many feet we sit from one another, but instead we make it possible to integrate well-being and family with our unique abilities to contribute and create value. Now is the time to put care and curiosity into action and build a future we are really proud of. For everyone.

[ Want more advice? Watch the on-demand webinar, "The future of leading digital innovation: What's next," with Nancy Giordano, plus Red Hat's Margaret Dawson and IDC's Nancy Gohring. ]

Nancy Giordano
Nancy Giordano is the best-selling author of “Leadering,” and a strategic futurist. She built a formidable career at several of the most influential ad agencies in NY, Chicago, and LA and for more than a decade has been the Founder/CEO of Play Big Inc., a strategic inspiration company. Her current work dives deeply into the emerging intersection of tech, business and society.

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