What does leadership look like in the age of rapid technological change? Stellenbosch Business School Skip to main content
What does leadership look like in the age of rapid technological change?
As a business leader or entrepreneur, you may be sitting at your desk right now thinking that your work and industry is safe.

As a business leader or entrepreneur, you may be sitting at your desk right now thinking that your work and industry is safe from digital startups like Uber, AirBnB and Netflix. However, technological disruption is a part of day-to-day business, no matter in which the industry you operate. In the KPMG and Forbes report Disruption is the new norm, this is highlighted:

… we are living in a disruptive world. Data is proliferating and technology is becoming more complex. From automation, to artificial intelligence (AI), to the Internet of Things (IoT), to big data, to customer-facing apps and digital services, the rapid pace of technological change represents one of the biggest threats to today’s businesses.

This poses a challenging question for anyone interested or involved in business leadership: How do I lead effectively when the technological landscape changes so quickly?

There are a number of foundational leadership traits that can help you navigate this environment, even if you aren’t able to stay on top of every single new piece of technology. In this blog, we’ll unpack three of these traits.

Be agile

Agile is a term many use in the business world today. Originating from the Agile Manifesto, which focused on changing the way software was developed, the term has since been adopted by other industries to communicate the idea that businesses need to be able to adapt quickly to change.

Forbes talked to a panel of Forbes Coaches Council members about what agility is and why it is vital in today’s business environment. Here is what agile meant to three of the council members:

  • Moving quickly: “Agile means to be able to move fast. Speed is essential to business success. The company that moves faster to solve a problem, create a product or respond to a need will be the business that wins. Agility is often more available when actions are led by aspiration. When everyone knows what they are working toward, then people become more creative to accomplish the vision.”
  • Continuously learning and embodying a growth mindset: “Agile leaders are those who can adapt to an ever-changing and uncertain environment. When you set out to be a continuous learner and have a growth mindset, you are always looking for ways to improve your product, your services and yourself as a manager and leader. Learning from every opportunity prepares you to handle whatever happens and makes you an excellent role model for others.”
  • Listening, learning and adapting: “We live in a world where leaders are expected to be consistent, firm and resolute. However, we also live in a fast-paced and chaotic environment with few constants. Leaders who are firm may appear strong, but they often fail to adapt. The ability to listen, learn and adapt one’s position is a valuable skill that requires vulnerability, confidence and psychological safety. Agile leaders get this.”

Understand how to cope in complex, disruptive environments

Considering how quickly and unexpectedly disruption can take place, it is no doubt going to put many leaders under a great deal of pressure. But how does a leader deal with this? Fast Company spoke to Ernst & Young’s global chief innovation officer, Jeff Wong, about the Five Skills You’ll Need To Lead The Company Of The Future. When it comes to understanding how to cope in complex, disruptive environments, leaders need to be comfortable with chaos.

Wong breaks down why this is the case. “There are systems and processes that have been built up from the past that were fantastic for that era, but they aren’t fast or nimble enough to match this pace of change.” Later in the article, Wong describes how “Leaders who can demonstrate a level of comfort with the chaos that results from reinventing long-standing processes are better prepared for the challenges that await them in the future”.

Focus on being a leader, even when you’re not an expert

As a leader, you are already under pressure to perform and deliver on your leadership responsibilities. Where will you find the time to become an expert on blockchain, AI or the Internet of Things? The good news is you do not have to be.

The Forbes article, Why You Can’t Be Both A Leader And An Expert, highlights how attempting to be both can actually hurt your organisation.

As an expert, you had the answers, or at least the resources and techniques to find them. As a leader, your role is now to support your team in finding the answers themselves.

When experts move into leadership roles, they need to shift their approaches in order to succeed. The article explains how leaders should focus on these key responsibilities:

  • Strategically think and develop future solutions
  • Empower their teams and maximise their potential
  • Let their teams fail
  • Act proactively, not reactively
  • Provide critical and curious feedback to their teams
  • Become experts at asking questions, not giving answers.

This is just the tip of the leadership iceberg

While these three factors are undoubtedly critical to leadership in the digital era, they are not the only important factors you should be looking at. If you’d like to learn more about leadership in the age of digital disruption and what it takes to drive an organisation towards success, be sure to take a look at our Postgraduate Diploma In Leadership Development course.

You know how to manage. However, to take the next step in your career and to grow your influence, you need to acquire leadership skills. This calls for a journey of personal development. This postgraduate diploma will provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to thrive as an authentic leader with your own unique leadership style, regardless of the technological changes happening around you.

If you have any questions about this course or any of our other programmes, contact us today – our staff are ready to assist.

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