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  • Writer's pictureDonald Macintyre

Going digital: what it means for leadership communication


The rapid shift to a digital economy is redefining what it means to lead and the bad news is most leaders just aren’t ready, according to a new report from the MIT Sloan Management Review. Just 12% of respondents are confident their leaders have the right mindset to lead successfully in the new digital economy, according to the report, and fewer than 10% strongly agree their leaders have the right skills.

In “The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age: Reimagining What It Takes to Lead,” the authors highlight the many challenges facing leaders today, from “digitalization, upstart competitors (and) the need for breakneck speed” to “an increasingly diverse and demanding workforce.” Based on surveys and interviews with global leaders in 120 countries, their report paints a bleak picture of the state of readiness of most C-suites.

Less than half of respondents feel their organizations are ready to compete in digitally driven markets and economies. Not surprisingly, the results indicate that “digital savviness” is a prerequisite of an effective leader in the new digital economy. Skills that served in the past – top-down, command-and-control management styles – don’t work in a fast-moving environment where decision-making has to be more decentralized. Qualities like transparency, authenticity, collaboration and empathy are in high demand. And beyond new competencies and behaviors, leaders need a shift in mindset that puts a premium on building what the authors call “passionate communities of leaders.”

Still, leaders struggling to get up to speed on all things digital may take heart in one of the report’s findings. Asked to name the most important leadership skill or behavior, a majority of respondents put the ability to communicate “a clear sense of purpose, vision and strategy” at the top of the list. So while leaders may need a new playbook, it should still include a chapter on delivering powerful, inspiring leadership narratives that get everybody rowing in the same direction. Digital does change everything but some leadership skills are enduring.

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