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Not Every Leader Is Meant to Lead Transformation

Digital transformation is driven by humans and as such, the person(s) leading the change effort must be scrutinized. The C-Suite and senior leadership team members as a whole are ultimately the key to the success of any significant change effort. Having worked with several entities through different types of technology change initiatives in my career, I’ve experienced various types of leaders. Some were exceptional in their ability to understand the nuances of the people, process and technology components of transformation while others were out of their depth. I’ve outlined the 3 leadership profiles I believe may be better suited outside the digital transformation strategy room. Let’s see if you agree.

The Self-Admitting Nay Sayers

If you have a history in the technology field, you would have definitely heard leaders say “Tech is not really my thing” or “I'll leave that stuff to you tech people”. This is a telltale signal of someone in leadership who is not prepared for the demands of the digital era. EVERYONE is using technology today. It is officially a part of our lifestyle. So technically, every person is a tech person and every company is a tech company: you are either enabled by or providing tech.

This may not be a popular opinion, but if you are sitting in the C-Suite, or have a role as an executive or senior leader and your current perspective and language reflects the thinking that "tech is not my thing", then it's time for a shift.

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While I am not saying that you should be an expert or highly versed in tech related concepts, it is your responsibility as a leader in today’s world to be reading, watching or listening to insights concerning doing business successfully. Today, successful businesses leverage the use of technology and engender an innovative culture. So do the work, become familiar with the concepts, and most importantly shift your language.

The Forever Leader…

Just because you’ve been there for a long time, doesn’t mean you should be the leader on a major change initiative. Larger companies or even small ones that have been around for over 20 years should take a look at their leadership team and ascertain who is capable of taking the organization through this type of change. Many entities, especially in government suffer from forever leaders; those who have been there since the age of dial up internet and either have not grown, changed or adapted to being innovators and change makers. This is a dis-service to the organization, the leader and most important, the people who report to or look up to this person.

The CEO is ultimately responsible for ensuring that leaders on their transformation teams are fit for purpose. If this is not the case, then there should be open, candid discussions that offer opportunities for development including certifications and coaching or some other type of plan that supports this leader in their digital and transformational leadership capabilities. If the CEO is the forever leader, then the Board and Human Resources have a responsibility to take similar measures. In some instances, it may mean shifting this leader into a better suited role or out of the organization altogether.

The Critic With a Reserved Seat

One of my favorite quotes that I often reference in some of the speeches I give is from Theodore Roosevelt about the arena. The part of the quote I’ll use here is “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”

This includes leaders who sit and wait for everyone else to make things happen without getting their hands dirty and those who go with the flow and pace that other leaders are setting without taking risks themselves.

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Digital transformation is a very active and messy arena. It requires courageous, agile and innovative leadership among other key skills. Most importantly, it requires being IN the arena not sitting on the sidelines identifying all the things that are not going well or could have been done differently. This type of leadership is not only demotivating for the people doing the work, but also promotes a culture of blame, shame and low accountability. None of which will create a successful transformation effort.

All leaders are accountable for themselves and for the success of the transformation effort. It is with that understanding that we hold each other accountable and invite/encourage our colleagues to be “in the arena”.

If you are leading a digital transformation effort and recognize that your leadership team needs support, take a look at our leadership programs and reach out for a discovery call. At the very least you’ll gain some objective perspective on the challenges you may be experiencing on your transformation journey.

Till next time…