Every morning, my content aggregator delivers 100+ posts about leadership, thinking patterns and team development.

I rarely read more than 10. Because only a few explore the reality of work and leadership in the digital age.

Unless you’ve lived in a cave for the past few years, you’ll have noticed that the technology to connect people is well developed. As a result, iterative feedback (from customers, employees, or even investors) is becoming the norm.

What does this mean for a leader in the digital age? The human experience element is back at the heart of work. And your greatest task will be to prepare for it (and make sure your people are prepared too).

Here are 10 essential skills to be a great leader in the digital age.


Strategic thinking


Digital innovation is growing faster than any other technology before. Giants like Amazon and Dell have designed their flat organisational structures to increase information fluidity and make strategy collaborative.

Almost anyone in the organisation can make a difference by carrying their ideas to the top. But your people will only do this if they are familiar with the bigger picture, and “why we do what we do”.


The value of an idea lies in the using of it - Thomas Edison


Innovative thinking


What keeps Mark Zuckerberg awake at night? According to Sheryl Sandberg, it’s lack of change and innovation.

In the past, we launched massive change programs to execute business transformation. Tomorrow, successful businesses will be agile and responsive.

For a great leader in the digital age, this means promoting innovative thinking, and the ability to see trends sooner than others.

Discovery consists in looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different - Albert Szent Gyorgi Click To Tweet


Seeking feedback


The businesses who are still operating with a “siloed” mentality are already suffering from their own lack of response to innovation. Those who welcome feedback and critical perspectives thrive. They move new ideas forward before the competition does.

The great leaders in the digital age make continuous improvement their mantra. Be brave, and encourage your team to actively seek feedback.


Communicating at all levels


Flat structures bring decision-making close to customers and teams. For everyone in the organisation, it means being able to communicate at all levels; horizontally across teams, and vertically by connecting to senior leaders and having powerful conversations.

No one but a seasoned leader can prep you for it. If you’re leading a team or mentoring young talents, make communication up-skilling your first priority.




Social connection skills


I touched on the concept of a “network of teams” earlier on. This means as much “many to many” interactions as “one to one”. This is new for many people, who are not necessarily used to group-based work (where challenging each other is the way to grow).

As a leader of those teams, getting people to work together in situ won’t be enough. They will need to spontaneously interact and even partner with other teams for targeted projects.



Cultural intelligence


Diversity pays off in the form of better ideas, and elevated productivity. It’s now the rule in many organisations (so much so that recently, Google made sure anti-diversity behaviours are publicly blamed).

Diversity is a fundamental aspect of the way we work globally. Get yourself up to speed with cultural intelligence, so that you can capitalise on diversity assets, instead of pretending to act on it.




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As Tony Fadell (founder of Nest) says, “If you’re not having doubt, then you’re not pushing it hard enough”.

Not everyone has the agility to flex a business model to respond to real-time feedback. But being ready to bounce back when things don’t work as planned is the bare minimum.

It’s hard to protect stakeholders’ confidence in a digital, fast-paced world. But a great leader knows it relies on building resilience in a team.




How do successful brands gather fascinating insights about their client population? They ensure their teams can feel their pulse in real-time (remember that silly quiz on your Facebook feed)?

Working on empathy is not a secondary option for a leader in the digital age. As we move towards networks of teams, where various business lines will get together, a strong tolerance for new ideas will be a key metric for a team to be successful.

Related: Is emotional intelligence the best asset for a team?



Growth mindset


To cope with the level of change, you will need continuous learning. I say “learning” intentionally; setting up a full training curriculum by HR will take too long.

Sure, formal training will still be needed for specific areas. But the norm for a great leader in the digital age will be to take initiative and fill her own knowledge gaps.

And inspire their team members do to the same.



Strong body and mind


Sure, AI and bots will take on the mundane tasks. What will be left? Insight, decision, innovation.

Sounds cool, but we’re not super-humans (yet). Deep thinking is very demanding for your brain (20% of your energy intake). Build simple habits to relieve your stress, and encourage your team members to do the same.



Whether you are leading a team already, or will be in a position to do so soon, the future of work is 100% human. Customer centric products, or customer and employee interactions are just a few examples.

In a world dominated by fast responses to ever changing markets, you need to augment your human skills if you want to be a great leader in the digital age. Why not use these 10 trends to prepare your personal development plan for next year?

What is the #1 leadership element you think is decisive for the future of work? Let us know in the comments!


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