On the bright side, we identified a number of leadership teams that were paying attention to new ways of working and leading. By analyzing these responses, with the MIT Sloan School we’ve developed a framework for understanding leadership behaviors that work, as well as four mindsets that constitute the new hallmarks of leadership.
Not as prepared as they think
The majority of executives we surveyed are hampered by inertia and a reluctance to rigorously rethink their past leadership practices. We’ve identified three fundamental reasons why leaders aren’t as ready as they think to lead in the digital economy:
1 A deficiency in digital savviness.
Fully 71% of our respondents believe they are personally prepared to lead in the digital economy. Yet this same group scores significantly lower when asked whether they possess specific digital skills, such as using analytics for decision-making or advocating for the use of advanced technology in the organization.
2 Blind spots that prevent them from seeing a clear path forward.
Many leaders are not as self-aware as they need to be, particularly in four key areas: strategic (failing to grasp the dramatic changes taking place in their industry), cultural (seeing change as an affront to cherished norms), human capital (outdated hiring and promotion practices) and personal (surrounding themselves with people who reinforce old-world thinking).
3 Embedded tensions that threaten trust and create cultural inertia.
Many interviewed leaders expressed concern that they might lose employee trust due to trade-offs that emerge directly from the new world of work. For example, while speed is essential in the digital economy, an accelerated pace can make it difficult to maintain meaningful relationships. Failure to confront these dilemmas can result in lethargy, cynicism and mistrust.
Leadership behaviors: heeding the 3 E’s
Trailblazing leaders artfully balance leadership approaches that appeal to a new generation of employees, while honoring time-tested behaviors and attributes. From our survey results and executive interviews, we grouped current leadership behaviors into three categories: eroding, emerging and enduring.
- “Eroding behaviors” are those that were once viewed as valuable but are now considered counterproductive. These include reliance on hierarchy for influence, command-and-control decision-making and rigid strategic planning.
- “Emerging behaviors” are those that are becoming more critical to success. These include a data-driven outlook, tech savvy, openness to varied input, humility, the ability to empower teams, flexibility and a wiliness to prioritize sustainability efforts.
- “Enduring behaviors” are time-tested leadership attributes that are still viewed as critical. Most prevalent is the ability to build trust among teams, named by 64% of respondents as a top leadership attribute. Others include strong ethics, authenticity, honesty and integrity.
The challenge is to cultivate emerging behaviors, combine them with the enduring ones, and proactively shed those behaviors whose value is eroding. Doing so is integral to crafting a leadership framework that is right for the times.
Four mindsets that enable the leadership needed today
Of course, few — if any — leaders are competent across the full set of emerging and enduring attributes. That’s why the primary leadership challenge isn’t simply to develop a set of competencies but to embrace a new mindset that anchors, informs and advances desired behaviors. By changing their attitudes and beliefs about what leadership looks and feels like, leaders can produce behavior change that lasts over time.
We identified four distinct yet interrelated mindsets that together constitute the new hallmarks of leadership in the digital economy: producers, investors, connectors, and explorers. The narrative thread connecting these mindsets is that they intentionally align efforts to bring out the best in colleagues and collaborators while measurably enhancing outcomes for customers, communities, our planet and shareholders.