Why leaders must transform themselves to succeed with digital transformation

Leaders must transform themselves is a key conclusion of “Leading in the Digital Era,” a three-part series, summarising research led by Linda Hill at Harvard Business School. 

The research included roundtable discussions with over 175 executives from companies around the world as well as a survey of over 1,500 senior executives from more than 90 countries about the challenge of leading digital transformation. 

A staggering 97 percent of respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that organisations will not remain competitive unless they radically adapt to the demands of the digital era. 

When asked what it takes to harness the potential of digital technologies, leaders shifted quickly from talking about digital tools to talent and culture.

The report suggests companies trying to succeed with digital transformation must change employees’ hearts (why they do their work), heads (how they see their work), and hands (how they do their work). 

But the key finding that caught my eye is the leadership challenge of digital transformation. 

The report suggests, “Leaders who set out to reshape their companies to compete in a fast-evolving digital world often come to a daunting realisation: To transform their organisations, they must first transform themselves.”

Based on their research, the report suggests a useful list of six skills leaders need in the digital age to transform themselves.

1️⃣ Be a catalyst, not a planner

In the digital era, companies face a more dynamic competitive environment: key competitors are no longer the usual suspects, and customer and stakeholder expectations continue to evolve. 

2️⃣ Trust and let go

In today’s world, vision and strategy are still essential, but the ability to orchestrate collective action…..has never been more important. Leading in the digital era is an exercise in trust. 

3️⃣ Be an explorer

With so much changing around them, leaders must be explorers. An explorer searches with an ambition in mind: What questions must they answer to lead their businesses today and tomorrow? Where might they find the answers?

4️⃣ Be courageous

In a fast-moving world with more risks than ever—cybersecurity, reputational risks, pandemics, social crises—executives need courage to make big bets.

5️⃣ Be present

Employees are expected to take on more risk as they experiment and innovate, and experience new human-technology interactions. The best leaders stay present and emotionally engaged, communicating openly and authentically. 

6️⃣ Live values with conviction

Many employees will resist changing their mindsets, behaviours, and skills unless they appreciate the value of doing so; leaders need to be clear about not just what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it. 

🙋 Which of these leadership skills and attributes would you prioritise? 🙋‍♀️

Best regards, Brian

Leaders must transform themselves