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Executive Education

How to Be a Successful Leader in a Digital, Disconnected World

Photo: Courtesy of William Iven

Skip Spriggs

President and CEO, The Executive Leadership Council

We face a conundrum as the influence of a digital world directly impacts the effectiveness of leadership. For millennia, leadership was nearly an absolute. Either you had the skill or capability to lead, or you didn’t. And a lack of leadership skills became quickly evident to those who were expected to follow. However, today’s leaders can be disconnected from their workforce, and still remain in power.

Today’s chief executives have to look beyond profits and losses, as well as personal relationships with board members and shareholders, to include social responsibility, staff interaction and customer satisfaction in their portfolios. In these demanding times, the pipeline of future executives depends on timely, relevant and high-quality leadership development.

Born or made?

Is leadership an acquired skill or something that is innate? Debates around this question have raged for decades. My personal experience tells me that most leaders naturally possess the necessary qualities. That is, the ability to engage, inspire and motivate others. However, more is needed for leaders to be successful.

Research findings indicate that relationships, development and training can make all the difference in a manager’s success. As well as foundational qualities, other valued traits include  integrity, character, an ability to motivate and inspire, and a clear desire to take initiative. Circumstances and environment may also contribute to the development of distinctive styles of leadership. Military leaders, for example, are promoted only after demonstrating an ability to take command, win the respect of their team and maintain alignment with the goals of more senior officers. Because this model has worked for hundreds of years, many industry leaders and corporations have followed a similar approach.

Communication is key

In today’s digital-technical, gig economy, leadership skills include the ability to communicate effectively and build teams that have high degrees of satisfaction in their work. In many start-ups, leaders work among their colleagues in open office environments and have a transparency that was once elusive. Helping individuals to build confidence and achieve goals are keys to a company’s success. Quite often, leadership talent in many organizations is underutilized, but leadership training helps to identify those who possess promising qualities. Choosing the best way to pursue leadership development depends on the individual and the desired outcome.

Today, more leadership development programs are offered online as self-paced programs. While they can be effective, many of the best programs involve human interaction and the immediacy of learning, as you’re able to hear directly from experienced leaders and coaches about what motivates people to deliver their best work.

It takes heart

Going forward, leadership development will require as much of a focus on character and ethics as it will on process and control. With the exponential growth in artificial intelligence and machine learning, there will be a strong demand for continuous training and leadership development to help build the cadre of leaders that will inspire people to use their skills in innovative and rewarding ways.

Leadership development is a necessary and worthwhile endeavor for leaders to gain the vision and direction needed to deliver results with intellectual honesty, integrity and strategic thinking.

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