Saturday, August 1, 2015

Does Digital Leadership Become “Harder” or “Softer”?

The hardcore of leadership never changes: it’s all about making a positive influence and providing direction, both for oneself and others

The digital world today is much more complicated and that requires an ability to juggle multiple and competing demands and clear the vision under cloudy climate and uncertain circumstances. Businesses need to recognize the change and help leaders meet the challenge via business savvy and agility. Improvisation, fact-finding, analysis and synthesis, trial and error, all are marks of leadership. However, compared to industrial leadership, is digital leadership 'harder or softer'? How can you get the balance right - Leadership substance, leadership competency, and leadership styles?

Leadership is the good combination of “Hard Skills” and “Soft Skills”: The "hard-core" of leadership is 'soft': It is about influence and change. Now, here's the hard truth that all leadership-oriented organizations must deal with. As long as investors and the stock market hold the Boards and top management of any private or public company accountable for achieving certain financial and operating objectives over the short and long term, the practical reality of today's business world is that business leaders must have both technical "hard" skills and leadership "soft" skills in the proper ratio. Although the line between the hard and the soft skills are blurring. When cataloging the "hard" skills in the leadership and management study, there are groups of skills that might be considered. The first one would be business strategy skills including visionary thinking, strategic planning, market evaluation, and customer needs, product development, capital planning, Board and external market management, corporate culture, technology trends, executive management requirements, among others. The second one would be the management skills of planning, leading, organizing and controlling. The third one would be the operational skills of Marketing, Sales, Operations, Engineering and Research, Manufacturing, etc. The fourth one would be financial skills such as Income and Cash Flow Statement and Balance Sheet knowledge, etc.

Leadership is more agile, elastic and resilient in the digital era: Leadership is figuring out which decisions need to be made and laying out a compelling vision for the path to follow. Leadership is also the ability to make smart decisions for the short- and long-term ability to gain active support for their successful execution. Static leadership does not work well. Leaders must master more than one management style, and must adapt to a changing business environment. To embrace change can be seen as a desired behavior just like “display trustworthiness” or “lead by example.” Leadership “hard” skills can and should be defined, but also leadership and management skills. Plus key desired behaviors. This is useful when defining leadership roles and levels when identifying leader development areas, and when assessing leadership skills and experience. Broad management/leadership education is typically streamlined, but it’s useful for individual add-on education and training. It is also useful for career planning purposes. The great leaders use their personality and should be encouraged to do so. In the best of all possible worlds, businesses would have individual assessment and programs tailored to meet that person's goals, strengths, and areas for improvement.

Leadership and management always go hand-in-hand: Business leaders need business strategy skills (such as vision, strategic plans, technology trends, corporate culture, go-to-market model…). They also need good managerial skills (such as organizing their leadership team, measurement, follow-up results…). They need to understand, build and assess the operational skills in their leadership teams. Business leaders also need people management skills and key desired behaviors. They need to fully understand financial targets, and they need an excellent management team. But in addition, business leaders need to be authentic. This is not something you teach or measure. A business leader should be allowed and encouraged to excel by using their personality. Leaders do need to focus on the bottom line but also apply visionary and strategic thinking, plus enthusiasm, and unique personal leadership styles. The result can be brilliant corporate achievements. Soulless managers who only focus on numbers won’t make it far but can cause lots of damage to the organization.

The substance of leadership never changes, it’s all about making a positive influence, and providing direction, both for oneself and others. However, leadership competency and styles need to be adaptable to the increasing speed of change and hyperconnected and interdependent nature of businesses and global society today. Leadership is about striking the balance of both the hard and soft elements. Leadership is about vision, also about alignment and integration.


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