The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the demands on leaders. In 2020 and 2021, they’ve had to rapidly decide how to operate with their staff working from home, how to start reintroducing them back into the workplace, how to keep selling and maintaining customer relationships, and what technology to adopt to allow their firms to leverage the new virtual world.
From my virtual speaking and training work with over 350+ clients, I’ve developed a 4-stage framework I refer to as the acronym LIDA which represents Leadership in a Digital Age, which is usually delivered as a keynote, workshop, or a webinar.
I then further define these letters as the skills I see as critical for a future-ready leader:
Leaders can never stop learning. With the advancement of technology infiltrating all aspects of the workplace, leaders need to stay current with recent trends and the technology options at their disposal. At a minimum they need to understand all the new acronyms/terms such as AI, ML, RPA, OCR, NLG, Big Data, Cloud, NN etc. They don’t need to know the details, but they do need to understand the potential impact on their business to be able to make key strategic decisions. Those who fail to do this risk getting left risk behind and see their businesses suffer.
They also need to plan the learning of their teams. We know that many jobs are being severely impacted by technology, such as call centre staff. As a leader you need to plan 1 to 3 years ahead for the up- and re-skilling of your impacted employees.
This learning takes time, so some forward planning is required. What are the skills that you as a leader need to develop to be able to guide the future direction of you teams, and what are the new skills and roles that will be created across your firm and how do you redeploy as many of your affected staff as possible?
Learning is still a valid skill and part of the LIDA framework. In the past couple of months, leaders have had to learn how to adapt to working from home, how to best leverage the technology available, how to better manage remote teams, and how to plan for the future of work post-crisis.
As a leader you need to be continually open to learning new skills, and be aware of when you have knowledge gaps to be filled.
The need to be innovative is nothing new in the Digital Age, in fact it’s a core competency, however many leaders are still not focussed on it. Some will leave it to ‘someone else’ or the IT/ innovation team, however this is a very closed mindset. As a leader you should be focused on how to create additional value through innovation, otherwise your competitors will grab market share.
This doesn’t mean the leader needs to generate innovative ideas themselves, but they need to either set up a structure and culture that encourages innovation and empower others to take action. Innovation can come from within your own teams, or if you have an innovation team, by working with them on what challenges your team or clients are facing. Your team are best placed to identify client needs but might need guidance on what to do with that information.
Innovation is still a key skill during the Covid-19 period. Now more than ever, leaders need to find new ways of working and generating business. This could mean a change in sales strategy, creating a new product for the current environment or planning a new organisational structure post-crisis.
I’ve heard from some leaders that they’re scaling back innovation in these times, but personally I think it’s the time to ramp it up if feasible, whilst others are focussed on different priorities. Obviously, this doesn’t include those who have had to furlough staff or are fighting for survival, but if your teams have some excess capacity whilst volume has dipped, then it can be put to good use in generating innovative ideas for additional value. This can give you a head start as the economy emerges from the crisis.
This is where there is a potential change to the original framework. Data is one of the crucial aspects of AI and technological developments. Understanding its potential and the value it could add to your firm is one of your responsibilities as a leader. Every firm produces a certain amount of data, but few are aware of just how much, and fewer know what to do with it.
Data can help you drive predictive analytics; your customers buying patterns, needs and want, optimal shipping routes, buying levels or future market moves. Therefore, having a data strategy is crucial. To fully maximise its potential requires substantial investment, so you need to decide whether to put money into a data science team and see what they can produce, or decide upfront what you want to achieve and then allocate for that.
The potential change to the framework in these times, is to replace Data with Decision-Making. The pandemic has proven that fast, decisive decision-making has been vital in helping some countries navigate the pandemic better than others. Likewise, in the corporate environment, leaders need to make quicker decisions to help drive innovation and change within their organisations. Yes, you still might need to conduct research and testing, but don’t procrastinate and overanalyse to the point of paralysis.
With the speed of technological innovation, being able to move and implement with agility has never been more important. There is not much point having a great idea and then taking 2 years to implement it because of outdated internal policies, as by then, one of your competitors will have probably beaten you to it.
Software development teams have been using agile methodology for many years now, and the concepts and philosophies have spilt over into leadership development. Leaders need to move with speed, and make decisions based on feedback and diverse inputs. Using technology can help with this, but fundamentally you’ll need to address outdated processes and fixed mindsets to change the culture of your organisation.
This framework lays out the core competencies of the modern leader.
I don’t expect most leaders to be proficient in all of them, but I hope it helps highlight where further development could be of benefit, or the complementary skills you need across your management team to be able to prepare your firm for the future of work.
About the Author
Mark Stuart, CSP is a sought-after motivational speaker based in Singapore who speaks virtually or in-person on Leadership In A Pandemic Age, The Future of Work, How to Build A Culture of Innovation, Thriving in the New Normal and more. Mark serves over 350+ clients in 19 countries.
The above article is an adapted version and comprises of Mark's 'Leadership In A Digital Age' keynote speech and workshop, available virtually or in-person.