Digital Leadership or Leading Digitally?


hand-3108175__340Does your organisation’s digital leadership (DL) mean you are leading digitally?

DL as a concept is used when we want to establish how organisations leverage technology in order to have competitive advantage. It also describes how people in organisations deploy technology to support or optimise processes, transform organisational culture, or innovate new ways of working. This means achieving a business-IT strategic alignment, rather than IT being a separate entity in the organisation. Even more, an organisation can use DL for bragging rights if it becomes the first to take advantage of some new technology to steer its industry in a particular direction. An example would be Uber taking advantage of technological algorithms to change how we travel.

In effect, DL points to the use of technology as a means to an end

The technology is often an important factor in the process but the human is the key driver. In other words, there is no DL without the human. Here the human must demonstrate how they can take advantage of the technology to achieve what they desire.

Whereas Leading Digitally requires a change of approach

Leading digitally is often (wrongly) approached in much the same way as DL. This prevents us from seeing the finer details of how humans in an organisation actually practice leadership with their ubiquitous technologies. To lead digitally means to consider the technologies in the organisation as partners in leadership practice and apply e-skills strategically. In so doing, managers deploy skills that engage other managers and employees, as well as technology in order to influence one another.

Unfortunately, these skills are often thought to be the same leadership skills that anyone needs in situations where technology is absent. The consequence is that we superimpose what works in the ‘non-digital’ context onto the digital space and hope to achieve the same results. This produces leadership failure. For example, a leader who regularly inspires employees with a Monday morning briefing might decide to do same in an email or on social media or the organisation’s Intranet and so on. This leader might consider himself/herself to be leading digitally by such an approach when in reality, leading digitally is something more.

To lead digitally is to show leadership presence in the digital space –

– and not use the digital sphere merely as a repository to ‘dump’ information onto employees or others we seek to influence. In practice, managers can still e-motivate, e-inspire, e-delegate, e-lead (or rather, co-lead) in the digital space as part of their “e”-skills.  To lead digitally is also to understand and use the ever-evolving culture of the digital space as a medium through which one influences others. Your organisation’s involvement in digital leadership does not necessarily mean you are leading digitally.  Leading digitally means being open and receptive both to technology and to all other humans involved in the leadership relationship. It is not a means to an end; it is itself a relationship to nurture.

Stay tuned to HCL Voices.

by Dr Lebene Soga


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