3 Essential Traits of Successful Leaders in the Digital Age
As advanced technology becomes more ingrained in the modern workplace, leadership must step up their skill set to ensure success in the digital age. Certain traits of successful leaders are constant. For example, strong leaders in the past and in the future will need to possess solid delegation, decision making, and problem-solving skills. They should have business acumen and a deep understanding of the major trends and factors that influence their industry. They must keep a pulse on the competition. But to succeed in the digital age, business leaders need skills that may not have previously been necessary at the top of the organizational chart.
1. They are Lifetime LearnersOne of the most essential traits of successful leaders today is having an intrinsic and sustained desire to learn. Curiosity and open-mindedness are the precursors to creativity and innovation, which is critical to thriving in the digital age. Specifically, all leaders must expand their digital competence. In the past, chief information officers (CIOs) were responsible for all technological endeavors in a company. But now, as the rapid rate of technological progress accelerates, all leaders must expand their digital IQ to be successful. The growing presence of digital technology has had a tangible effect on organizations’ strategies. The vast majority of leaders (96%) said digital transformation is a core business goal, according to a survey of more than 3,100 executives around the world administered by Oxford Economics on behalf of the SAP Center for Business Insight. Another 93% of respondents said technology is “critically” or “very” important to retaining a competitive advantage. More than half (56%) said they have seen their organizational structure change as a result of digital transformation. Given the importance of technology to business strategy, keeping up with the evolution of digital tools and capabilities is essential for companies’ success in the digital age. Leaders should encourage learning, promote innovation and push their employees to challenge the status quo. In this era, complacency is a fast track to failure.
Accountability is among the most important traits of successful leaders. Trust in corporate leadership is in crisis. Only 37% of the global public responding to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer consider CEOs “very” or “extremely” credible. This is an all-time low, with trust in CEOs declining by 12 percentage points from 2016 to 2017. The majority of leaders agree that public trust has a significant influence on their company’s ability to succeed. 58% of CEOs worry that distrust in business impairs growth, up from 37% in 2013, according to PwC’s 20th CEO Survey. The proliferation of new technologies has intensified the trust issue. 69% of CEOs believe that, in the digital age, it’s more difficult for companies to earn and hold on to people’s trust, according to the CEO Survey. Respondents cited social media; breaches in data security and ethics; IT disruptions; and automation and artificial intelligence as having the greatest potential to threaten the level of trust in their industry. Despite these findings, one can reason that if distrust in business breeds failure, gaining people’s trust will facilitate success. Internally, leaders must treat employees fairly and engage them to lead communication and advocacy efforts. Externally, leaders must offer high-quality products and services, listen to customer feedback and exhibit ethical business practices.
3. They Value the Human ExperienceLeading in the digital age requires a nuanced understanding of how humans and technology work together. Ultimately, leaders with a human-centric vision — in terms of the services they provide and their management style — are more likely to succeed. Many leaders have already identified the potential for technology to revolutionize their business. However, successful adoption of new software requires a certain mindset: technology should adapt to humans, and not the other way around. In other words, training employees to use new software shouldn’t upend their workflow. It should be as simple as possible, and most importantly, improve employee productivity. Communication is one of the most essential traits of successful leaders, and is critical to providing a human-centric employee experience. Tech-savvy leaders leverage digital channels of communication to become more accessible to staff, disseminate important information instantly, and better respond to questions and concerns. Regardless of a company’s size, leaders, and especially CEOs, should be a familiar face. The same principles apply to relationships between businesses and customers. Human-centric CEOs know that providing a positive experience in the digital age means treating customers with integrity, valuing their feedback and catering to their needs.
The TakeawayToday, technology and business are inextricable. Although fundamental leadership principles are evergreen, certain traits have become necessary to successfully lead one’s organization through the digital age. Here are the most important traits of successful leaders:
- Leaders must be lifetime learners. Curious leaders who are willing to embrace new tools and processes will be nimble enough to withstand the rapid pace of change in a turbulent business world.
- They have to understand the importance of trust, and exhibit business and leadership practices that help build trust within the company and among consumers.
- Finally, they should maintain a human-centered philosophy. Regardless of how prevalent technology becomes in business, the best leaders never lose sight of the fact their company exists to serve humans. Machines are a tool for people, not the other way around.