What are the qualities needed to lead digital transformation

What are the qualities needed to lead digital transformation

LeadershipOnce an organization has taken the decision to transform a significant part of itself, one of the next decisions to take is who will lead and ultimately be the single accountable individual to own the transformation. Whilst, of course, the aspiration or hope is that the operating model reaches a point of such dexterous maturity that “everyone” owns the change, it may not quite be the reality. This means that someone on the top team has to take accountability to make it happen. It is an important decision to make and making the wrong call can impede progress or even in some circumstances lead to the wrong outcome. With that in mind, I thought it worth unpacking the qualities that I see as required of this role:

  • Is the individual able to take a broad strategic direction and then explore it sufficiently to understand the full picture and reach the killer insight and trade-offs? If not are they of a mindset to empower someone who is and stand by the output?
  • Is the individual prepared to accept that they will very likely be covering new territory for them and possibly the organization, therefore, will need to be prepared to be humble and go “back to school” and learn a little? If not are they prepared to empower those who are and then learn from them?
  • Are they prepared to make unpopular, fact-based decisions quickly and decisively – often with imperfect information? They must be data-obsessed. If not, are they prepared to empower those who will and stand by the outcomes?
  • Are they able to form a team and culture that takes on the best of the current situation but also fosters new ways of working and interaction types? If not are they prepared to empower those who will and actively embrace it?

An important point to note here is that these points are about mindset – the actual skills can be learned.

What I have learned from my experience around a number of transformations that each of these topics can constrain, delay or even block securing the right outcome. What could be even worse is that the individual who owns the transformation is not open to challenging their own personal limitations or be prepared to empower those that can then you are just heading for a fail.

If ever there is a time for a leader to take a little personal risk then this is it. The transformation process is never the same twice and it’s not about perfection. Achieving three out the four is acceptable. A charismatic and open leader meeting two out of the four might just be enough but without that change of mindset, it’s dangerous.

2 Responses

  1. Jim DuBois says:

    Good article Steve, and great points about what a transformative leader needs. Mindset is so important. You imply it, but I would call out more explicitly that in major transformations, a leader also needs to be comfortable making mistakes. When trying to do something new and covering so much new territory, there is no way to get everything perfect the first time. Fear of making mistakes can slow everything down, while a willingness to make a mistake, learn from it, and improve, I think is necessary to achieve real success.

  2. Steve Homan says:

    Totally agree @jim-dubois. I have seen entire management teams gripped by collective passive fear of getting something wrong – with the result of trying to find the path of lease resistance instead of the path of maximum gain. Also a fair bit of failing slowly and painfully and pretending it’s not happening!

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