Much of the discussion around “digital transformation” has been focused on how to effectively introduce new platforms and systems into a workplace — perhaps because “digital” implies technology and tools.
There is also plenty of discussion about the (often revolutionizing) impact on an organization’s culture. However, there is less discussion about how the wave of digital transformation is ushering in fundamentally new perceptions of leadership — a key aspect of successfully navigating this new territory.
Several months ago, I was talking with a manager from a large international construction firm. He was noting something of a tectonic shift in his industry. Historically, employees who were with the company for a long time would build up vast reserves of personal knowledge and, in doing so, would be promoted into positions of organizational leadership. However, this manager was seeing the landscape rapidly evolving. Major technology shifts were reshaping the environment in which the company was working. New employees were arriving with critical skills and tools that the older veterans were unfamiliar with. He observed that those in positions of authority were often struggling with this new reality as their historical basis for power in the company eroded.
In their uniquely-named book, A Very Short Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Leadership, authors Jackson and Perry (2011) validate this manager’s observation. They note several studies supporting the notion that high-technology environments — characterized by speed, ambiguity, and complexity — pose particular challenges for leadership. They argue that, during times of crisis “you know that the the real leaders are the people with control over the technology”.