Digital transformation is rarely just about technology – it’s typically part of a set of operational enhancements that involve doing existing things faster, or better, or cheaper.
Or just differently – sometimes it’s part of a wider strategic development that impacts the whole business. But no matter what the business context, or the technology involved, the success of any transformation is dependent on people, and it takes strong, ‘digitally fluent’ leadership to help position, execute and embed change across an organisation, empowering and supporting people to adapt and thrive in a new environment or situation.
Here’s the 3 hallmark traits that most experienced leaders actively practice in order to ensure the success of a digital transformation project:
Growth mindset: the best leaders are learning leaders.
Fixed vs. growth mindset are well documented topics in leadership, and Carol Dweck PhD’s research has influenced much of the most useful leadership development practices today. People with a growth mindset accept and embrace that they have the power to learn new skills, grow through new experiences and evolve their capabilities with time and effort. People with a fixed mindset are more likely to be resistant to change and disruption, tending to see change as having negative impacts and are typically threatened by the successes of others. Transformation by definition requires us to move beyond the norms of what we know and have come to believe. The ability to see problems as opportunities, to not be limited by failures and the capacity to accept feedback are all hallmarks of successful change leadership. Cultivating a growth mindset is a pre-requisite for the digital leader.
Empathy in action: compassion lifts culture.
Great leadership in any sphere starts with empathy. For transformation programmes to be successful, leaders must be able to see issues and opportunities from the perspective of others. Curiosity is the great enabler in the pursuit of empathy; we have to take time to ask questions and seek out the point of view of people who may not share any of our experiences and have diametrically opposing beliefs to our own. Truly inspirational leaders aspire to lead with compassion. Compassion can be thought of as ‘empathy plus action’ - and it’s the actions leaders take that set the scene for a culture of compassion to thrive. If empathy is understanding the impact of change, then compassion is taking action to mitigate the negative impacts of those changes on individuals. Creating a supportive space and the right environment for people impacted by change to adapt and be successful is at the heart of compassionate leadership, and transformation projects fail when this is ignored or deprioritised.
Walk the talk: the currency of trust.
People judge the quality and authenticity of leadership not by the delivery of big strategic milestones or growth in revenue. It’s measured by what leaders are observed to be saying and doing every day. Walking the talk can be especially hard during digital transformations; it’s easy for change projects to be focused on the deliverables rather than the way things are being done. We must be mindful of our own actions and interactions, and that can only come through the self-discipline of reflection and the pursuit of feedback from others. Take a moment to think about how people could be perceiving you: are you acting, visibly and consciously, within the frame of the behaviours you’re seeking to inspire and enable in others? In his excellent book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey describes thirteen competencies that High Trust leaders have and that allow them to be trusted whilst creating trust. Digital leaders understand how trust is built, earned, and extended, and creating transparency is one of the most important trust competencies we can practice during transformation programmes. Leaders need to be truthful, transparent and open. We have to strive for disclosure and invite scrutiny for trust to be built.
There are so many other hugely effective traits and behaviours that great leaders cultivate and adopt. I’ve focussed here on three that I see consistently in the great leaders I work around every day, and for my part, they’re the traits I strive to practice myself. It can be a tough ask to find time for self-evaluation as a leader, but if you aren’t paying attention to your capabilities and behaviours, you’re losing a valuable opportunity to be better and do better.