Coaching Leadership

Digital Leaders – What makes a leader thrive in the digital transformation era?

Table of Contents

To meet the demands of the digitalization era, companies are making across-the-board organizational changes, reskilling employees and setting up innovation labs.

In order not to merely survive but to thrive, today’s leaders need to be able to inspire and engage, with results that are truly transformational.

Harvard Business Review [*1] found that two key elements of leadership: driving engagement of their employees’ motivation and organizational cultures of development were common to the top companies that had succeeded in digital growth and financial performance.

So what makes a leader thrive with their team in the digital transformation era?

Have you ever met a person in a team with the glow of a hero? Have you ever been in a pressing meeting where someone took control of the situation by conveying a clear vision of the group’s goals, a genuine passion for the work, and an ability to make everyone feel recharged and energized?

Researcher Bernard Bass formulated a concept for this business hero and proposed the Transformational leadership theory [*2]. Leadership experts have been praising transformational leadership in action ever since [*3].

Originally Bass and Rigio [*4] described these leaders as:
” those who stimulate and inspire […] to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity.” Transformational leaders help others grow and develop into leaders, doing this by responding to individual needs, by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual, of the leader, of the group, and of the larger organization.

So how do they do this? Bass [*5] broke down transformational leadership into 4 traits:

Intellectual Stimulation – encouraging creativity and innovation within the team
Individualized Consideration – offering support, recognition as well as trust each person to find their own working style and apply their talents
Inspirational Motivation – true ambassadors of company goals and visions with an ability to clearly formulate them to followers in a way that members of the company contribute to goals with passion
Idealized Influence – they are role models that manage to connect with their teams in a trusting and positive manner

As ideal and romantic as it may sound, even Bass’ version of a business hero isn’t enough. Although it might be very effective, transformational leadership may not be appropriate in times of uncertainty as a rapidly changing environment such as an IT service company in their peak of digitalization change. In order for companies to thrive in moving sands, there is a need for an ideal of clarity in guidance and safety. Seeing leaders as the pillars of support in a company, they are required to create a working space that provides an unspoken assurance, a safe space so to say and a strength to provide clear direction when employees need it to move forward [*6].

How does a manager become this superhero in such uncertain times? Are we not putting our managers up for timely burnout?

What if there was a trusted companion each leader could have in their heroic meeting interventions?

Self-awareness: Being aware of one’s strengths, weaknesses, style, personality, and preferences has a significant impact on how leaders behave and interact with others. Being self-aware, a leader can consciously influence the situation and the potential climate of the group. On the other hand, the lack of self-awareness could lead to unwanted or undesirable consequences.

As Henkel and his colleagues (2019)[*7] found, self-awareness helps leaders in their well-being by lowering the chances of burnout and increases their ability to influence the climate in interaction and groups for the better.

A word from CoachCompanion is that true BALANCE can only be achieved through:

  • increased awareness of one’s visions, talents and abilities
  • a need for cultivating skills and experience.

Through achieving that balance, managers can inspire others as well as trust and support their employees in their growth.

[*1] Anthony, Swartz (2017) What the Best Leaders Do, Harvard Business Review

[*2] Bass, B. M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational dynamics18(3), 19-31.

[*3] DuBois, M., Koch, J., Hanlon, J., Nyatuga, B., & Kerr, N. (2015). Leadership Styles of Effective Project Managers: Techniques and Traits to Lead High Performance Teams. Journal of Economic Development, Management, IT, Finance & Marketing7(1).

[*4] Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2010). The transformational model of leadership. Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era2, 76-86.

[*5] Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2010). The transformational model of leadership. Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era2, 76-86.

[*6] White (2018). What is transformational leadership? A model for motivating innovation. CIO Magazine

[*7] Henkel, T. G., Marion Jr, J. W., & Bourdeau, D. T. (2019). Project Manager Leadership Behavior: Task-Oriented Versus Relationship-Oriented. Journal of Leadership Education18(2), 1.

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