Agile Leadership for successful Digital Transformation
With the proliferation of Digital Transformation to improve the way of working, bring in economies of scale with better efficiency and making informed decisions, leadership style is not isolated from it and is undergoing a 360-degree redefinition. A strong leadership foundation is a critical base for organizational agility required in the Digital Transformation initiative which helps in measuring the performance empirically and delivering continuous business value.
Leadership is a skill which is learned with experience and understanding of the responsibilities it brings along with the role and particularly the transformation program undertaken. Modern leadership is about moving from linear thinking to non-linear thinking, whereby conventional styles are revamped to bring in faster and impactful urgency for change, reimagining enforcement to embracing techniques and shifting the focus from traditional leadership to servant leadership style. I would discuss subtle differences between traditional leadership and servant leadership styles in a while.
Let us first understand the role of leadership in an organization undergoing a business transformation phase. Leadership is the first and foremost tribe in an organization which is expected to drive a transformation initiative with the support of change agents. It also requires getting required buy-ins from stakeholders and from the people getting impacted by the change in order to manage the resistance to change. Since business transformation is a change management strategy, there is a need to align all three levers viz. People, Process and Technology which ensure the success of the initiative.
A true leadership-oriented organization never puts blame on people, rather creates a sense of security amongst the employees by providing them with a “fail-safe” environment and motivates them to continuously improve. At the same time, a true leader helps the team in problem solving and challenges them to develop their own solution through collaboration, learning, experimentation and adaptation.
In view of digital transformation, a leader acts as a guiding, propagating and motivating force which helps the team to adopt new technologies easily, identifies waste in non-value-added activities and provides an impetus to the team to maintain the delivery cadence. A leader’s role in a Digital Transformation is more of a thought leader who continuously learns on his own and is a go-to person in his area of expertise. Thought leaders are the action-oriented people who move and inspire people with their strategic thinking and innovative ideas. Above all this, thought leaders know and show how to replicate their success.
Let us come back to the original discussion which we paused for a while. The traditional leadership is more of a reporting structure and is focused more on seeking information rather than disseminating the information required for enhancing employee motivation and innovation. They believe in delegation and distribution of work without understanding the skills of their teams. Traditional leaders are more interested in the numbers and continuously seek information with the intent to further pass it on to the top leadership and compare the plan with the actuals. A new style of leadership which is more oriented towards serving people, i.e., “Servant Leadership” is becoming prevalent to make the adoption of the change easier and sustain it. This new practice of leadership was coined by Robert Greenleaf – “Leader as the Enabler” and is associated with participative management style, i.e., one who helps the team and puts people first, removes obstacles, gives them the needed tools, trains them on required skills and protects them from disturbances.
A servant leader is more engaged in the entire transformation journey and specifically in view of digital transformation; a servant leader involves himself with the team in resolving their impediments and help them to move forward. It also requires the servant leader to gain enough understanding on the disruptive digital technologies, its limitations and its impact in order to gain support and general acceptance.
There are few specific characteristics that are required to be possessed by a Servant Leader to embrace the change which are as follows: - (Source: PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) ® Courseware, KnowledgeHut, 2016)
- Facilitation: A servant leader needs to be a good facilitator in terms of helping the team resolve their issues (technical or non-technical) by getting them the required assistance if he is not able to directly help the team.
- Listening: A servant leader needs to be a good listener and understands what the team needs.
- Empathy: Getting into the shoes of the team members to really understand the issue, even if they do not readily bring it to the leader.
- Healing: Ability to help team members recover from a traumatic situation such as an unsuccessful iteration, bruising conflict with other team members, etc.
- Awareness: Being aware of oneself and the team’s predicament.
- Persuasion: Able to persuade the team members to consider other’s point of view, encouraging them to voice their issues or even to let others help them.
- Conceptualization: Being able to paraphrase and break down the issues into parts and deal with them.
- Foresight: Being able to forecast and predict issues even before they arise, to nip them in the bud.
The top four leadership skills identified for driving a successful digital transformation initiative are as follows:-
- Cultivating a growth mindset- For treating challenges and failures as opportunities to grow.
- Prioritizing communication and influence- For communicating the vision and keeping the employees engaged.
- Ability to navigate innovation and change- For easier adoption of new technology and embracing uncertainty.
- Effective collaboration with other leaders and across teams- For using cross-functional teams to organize their work in an agile environment.
Similarly, an IT Leader must look for the following seven soft skills when building teams for digital transformation.
- Critical Thinking
- Handling complex Communication
- Emotional Intelligence
- Flexibility and Adaptability
- Productivity and Accountability
Digital Transformation is not only about adopting and implementing disruptive technologies such as Robotic Process Automation, Intelligent Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Computer Vision, Cloud computing, Big data, Blockchain, IoT, etc.; but it is also about cultural and mindset shift embracing a positive change to augment the human skills. It also involves improving customer experience, operational processes and business models. Therefore, leadership’s role becomes crucial in this paradigm to cultivate effective transformation skills in its leadership style as well as in the team. There is a need to redefine the leadership which is agile and contextual creating the right environment for teams to thrive and also inspires them to take ownership of their work and learn fast from customers.
References and Acknowledgments
- PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) ® Courseware, KnowledgeHut, 2016
About the Author
Gaurav Dhooper is a strategic thinker, a professional Agile and IT Delivery Leader, an author and a speaker. Gaurav writes articles on Digital Transformation, Agile Transformation, Agile Project Management and Scrum. He also writes articles on Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Personal Agility in leading online publications. Gaurav has been reviewer for PMI’s Standard for Earned Value Management and a book on Agile Contracts. He is also a Webinar and keynote speaker in various global conferences and Reviewing Committee Member in PMO Global Awards 2020. Gaurav also holds the voluntary positions of Digital Media Global Director of PMO Global Alliance and Senior Official of IAPM, Switzerland for Metropolitan area of Noida, India.