6 highly effective habits of highly effective digital leaders

Artificial Intelligence, IoT, blockchain, digital transformation, augmented and virtual reality -— these, and more forces of technology are shaping the modern business world. To keep things sane amidst all the chaos, organizations need tech leaders to step up. That’s how companies find their digital focus, derive flaunt-worthy ROIs from digital projects, and beat the competition by the force of technological innovation. Digital leaders, of course, are tasked with dozens of responsibilities. The highly effective ones stick to a core set of habits that help them steer the organization’s ship to safety through treacherous waters. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to six of these habits. Whether you’re a digital leader yourself or working closely with one — or are on the path to become one yourself — place your trust in these habits, and life in the digitally disrupted era will become a lot better.

Pursue lofty goals

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Surprisingly few digital leaders truly understand and place their trust in the transformative power of technology. Leaders need to step beyond “operations” and embrace their roles in shaping the “strategic” outlook of the company. That’s how the likes of Netflix escape the fate of the likes of Kodak. Here are some of the key ingredients that lend flavor, consistency, and uniqueness to this habit (or recipe for digital success).

  • These leaders know that getting where the company has never been means doing things the company has never done.
  • They understand that truly aspirational goals are the ones that make people excited and nervous.
  • They envision technology not as a driver of operations but as a shortcut to immense business value, and hence can correctly estimate the risks and rewards of digital transformation projects.
  • They’re confident enough to think beyond the shallow and safe project goals and are adroit at getting the board, the teams, and the chief technology officer (CTO) to share their vision.

Learn to live with ambiguity

As adventurous and highly aspirational projects get off the ground, leaders begin to realize that reality deviates from plans. Superstar developers will resign, the CEO’s short-term vision for the business will fall in variance to the digital project goals, and vendors’ lofty promises will plummet to the ground. The first signs of dissent, anger, confusion, and frustration among digital leaders is all it takes for naysayers to break into their “I told you so” smirks.

 digital leaders

Truly effective digital leaders remain committed to their projects, objectively, without getting drawn into emotional rollercoasters. It takes experience to come to peace with the fact that there’s a lot of ambiguity about new technologies and associated projects. Anticipating problems, and being prepared with workarounds, processes, and alternative tools to keep the candle burning — that’s the magic of a digital leader.

They’re always adding drops to their talent pool

A realistic and clear picture of the true in-house digital capabilities of the organization — this is a prerequisite to cultivating the habit of acquiring talent. Digital leaders are well aware of the fact that internal capabilities will often fall short of the demands of their digital projects. The risk is — the demand and supply gap could bring projects to a grinding halt. That’s where the habit to build the organization’s talent pool comes in handy.

Here are some approaches that feed into this habit.

Unrelenting focus on up-skilling and cross-skilling of internal employees via classroom training, workshops, and seminars.

Active networking, and being associated with the industry in general, as well as academia, with a keen eye for lateral hiring opportunities.

The acqui-hire approach, where digital leaders become the key drivers of acquisition activities wherein an organization acquires a startup or small business to quickly develop henceforth-unexplored capabilities.

They’re not afraid to ask why

Invariably, every instance of digital disruption can be linked to a digital leader’s unrelenting why. True digital advantage comes to those who challenge the status quo rather than stick to the norms. Digital leaders understand that if they won’t ask the why, some startup eventually will, and that could be a game changer for the industry. The art of challenging the existing customer facing as well as backend processes, with a focus on bringing in value-adding change — that’s how leaders give wings to organizations in the digitally empowered era.

They keep data at the center of decision making

Pioneering digital leaders know that data is an asset, and they always build methods and mechanisms that enable data-driven decision-making. It becomes second nature for them to look out for opportunities to integrate disparate databases to bring about richer data insights. Not only do they make data an enabler of quicker and continuous experimentation, but also an enabler of continuous improvements in processes. Leaders also understand that data must be accessible for all kinds of end users, and this reflects in the organization’s data governance policies.

They follow the money

Many enterprises believe, often wrongly, that their ambitious digital projects must focus on customer-facing processes. This easily builds organizational myopia, as companies fail to find better ways to lower the costs of doing business. This doesn’t happen when there are effective digital leaders at the helm of affairs.

 digital leaders

There’s great value in aligning digital initiatives towards optimization of back-office operations. Market research revealed that in 2013, Starbucks spread out its IT initiatives across three directions:

  • Digital security and resilience
  • Customer experience enhancement
  • Back office operations

Such a diversified approach is much better than merely focusing on building new revenue streams with technology. Digital leaders have it ingrained within them to develop a sort of portfolio of IT projects such that the organization’s IT strategy doesn’t become stonewalled.

Digital leaders are made, not born

It’s not easy for IT leaders — the pressure to do some tech-powered magic is immense, ROIs are getting more difficult than ever to measure, and the pace of change can often be disorienting. How do digital leaders manage to make sense of stuff, and keep the organizational ship afloat? It’s by the dint of the six habits we’ve discussed in this guide.

Featured image: Pixabay

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