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The digital transformation of leaders

To move forward in an agile and digital context, leaders will need to change their mindset and behavior, says Alexandre Duarte

Reading time: 5 min.

Bloomberg Línea Ideas — Little by little, companies seem to assimilate a tough truth: there is no sustainable digital transformation without building a congruent leadership capable of leading this change. Behind the new digital age, emerging technologies and the new economy, there are managers with the skillset to navigate different seas, supported by clear purposes, empathy and a lot of courage to face the ambiguities along the way. They are professionals with technical knowledge, humility to recognize their vulnerabilities, will to learn continuously and resilience to recreate themselves and the companies in which they work, being aware that the first step in transforming their organizations is to transform themselves.

A global survey conducted by Deloitte before the pandemic found that 80% of respondents believed that 21st century leadership has unique requirements that are critically important to a corporation’s success. Topics such as inclusion, social responsibility, understanding the role of automation and integrated leadership were some of the subjects already gaining strength on the agenda of forward-thinking managers. The accelerated transformations of the last two years not only materialized this perception, but also added other values for leaders, including the need for a defined and transparent position on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

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Among the main skills for managers, according to the survey, the ability to lead in an increasingly complex and ambiguous scenario (81%), through influence (65%) and remotely (50%) were the most emphasized by respondents as essential to build a cohesive management in the digital age.

But while the understanding of the challenges ahead on the journey is clear, on the other hand, there is still a long way to go. According to the same survey, only 25% of respondents believed they were effectively creating digital leaders.

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Engineering the change

To move forward in an agile and digital context, leaders will need to change their mindset and behavior. A Harvard University study pointed out that, in order to lead in the digital age, managers will need adaptability, curiosity, and creativity, in addition to being comfortable with ambiguity. What until then were soft skills become fundamental characteristics for a positive and successful management towards a sustained and sustainable growth.

Most of the skills required by the so-called 6.0 leaders (the digital leaders) are directly connected to technology. Many of these essential features for this era are fundamental pillars of the technological advances that we have seen in recent decades. Courage to break barriers and bet on the new, commitment to always move forward, anchored by clear and shared purposes, are premises found in open source, a participatory software development model based on collaboration and the free exchange of opinions and ideas, capable of generating transformative and positive innovations, among many other benefits.

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This ecosystem built by communities, in which everyone has the freedom to express their opinion, remaining committed to the objectives and the responsibility for delivering an alternative capable of contributing to the resolution of problems, is an example of what needs to be developed within organizations. In today’s world, vision and strategy are still essential, but the ability to co-create and engineer collective action, without verticalization, has never been so important, especially when we talk about leadership.

Writing a new chapter towards the future of work means creating initial conditions for the organization to achieve its ambitions in the midst of a continuous learning process. Changing routes, reinventing oneself and betting on experimentation should be the beacons in this new era, in which only the provocation to leave one’s comfort zone and go beyond is capable of generating innovation. Whoever fails to take this journey will hardly be able to move forward for a long time

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Co-creating the journey

Leading in the digital age is initially an exercise in trust.

1. First, trust oneself, learning to experiment and transform oneself to then catalyze these changes for collaborators.

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This posture requires a new vision and attitude towards risk in order to be comfortable with the inevitable mistakes and uncertainties. Maturing leadership is a painful path, with ups and downs. But with confidence in oneself and in the decisions made together with the team, the road becomes less winding and more direct towards the goals.

2. In this journey, counting on the support and trust of subordinates is essential. The digital manager is not afraid to show their vulnerabilities, to admit mistakes and, above all, to start over. Breaking free from the shackles and the untouchable imagery puts the leader in a position to have frank conversations with teams, customers and suppliers. Their attitude shows courage and resilience to shape, learn and grow together, they are always attentive and able to capture the first and simplest signs about what is happening in the organization and ecosystems.

3. Authentic conversations also highlight another essential characteristic of digital leaders: giving voice to the organization’s values, purpose and culture to co-create together. This is something that requires courage, emotional intelligence and contextual intelligence. Leaders must share how corporate purpose and values shaped their decisions. This is how they begin to create a culture in which people feel safe enough to take risks and act on behalf of organizational interests. This culture is the basis for developing a relationship of trust and strengthening ties for the growth not only of the leader, but also the entire team and the corporation.

Professionals who care

A PwC survey showed that people want to work for leaders who show they care. Professionals also want the organizations they work for to fulfill their purposes, values and culture. Although almost 40% of the leaders surveyed said that trust between leaders and subordinates is very important; this relationship will not be complete until leaders intensify, give life and connect their personal passions to the purposes and values of the corporation, acting as a driving force and creating context so their subordinates are successful when pursuing their objectives.

Between people, numbers, data, results, technology, agility and innovation, what is important for digital leaders is to think and act from an outside-in perspective. Balancing curiosity and a hunger for knowledge with intentionality, creating relationships of trust, exploring and co-creating, stimulating the freedom to exchange ideas. Have the courage to break old beliefs, to make mistakes and pivot – on yourself and on the market – keeping an open mind and a clear sight on goals. By cultivating a 360-degree view of the dynamics within their organizations and the ecosystems in which they operate, they will certainly be much better prepared to catalyze change and advance amidst the rough seas of the digital age.

Alexandre Duarte is Vice President of Customer Success for Latin America at Red Hat. Click here to learn more about the author.

--This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial boards of Bloomberg Línea, Falic Media or Bloomberg LP and their owners.

Alexandre Duarte (EN)

Alexandre Duarte (EN)

Alexandre Duarte is Vice President of Consulting and Training for Latin America at Red Hat. In his professional career of more than 25 years, he worked at large companies such as Dell and Quest, until he arrived at Red Hat in 2011.

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