Agility, vision, humility: how to lead in the digital age

The MVP of an organisation in today's fast-paced environment needs to create conditions that encourage purposeful innovation, writes Zone's Ross Basham...

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If you didn’t stay up all night to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, you won’t have seen the spectacular performance from Philadelphia Eagles’ winning quarterback, Nick Foles (don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about American football for long). But it was Foles’ post-match interview that grabbed my attention. In this most macho of sports, Foles (pictured) could have swaggered in with his MVP trophy, saying that their victory was inevitable and he always knew he would reach this pinnacle.

But he didn’t. Rather, Foles talked about how he’d almost given up the sport a couple of years ago, plagued by doubts about his ability, and his success was down to the team, not him. Foles had only become the team’s quarterback (the pivotal role in the team, for those not familiar with the sport) due to an injury to their first-choice player a couple of months ago, and showed incredible composure during the match. Humility, agility, calmness under pressure – all attributes of a great leader.

Zone’s Bristol office hosted a sold-out event for Bristol Media last week, in which leadership expert Steve Radcliffe talked about ‘The simple way to better leadership’ to a room of consultants and managers. Radcliffe takes an FED approach – Future (thinking big and having a vision), Engage (understand what matters to your people so they want to build that future with you) and Delivery.

"The traditional expressions of leadership are enemies of this fast-acting, fast-reacting approach"

Radcliffe’s methods have been used in organisations as diverse as the Civil Service and the National Trust to great success. But has great leadership changed in the digital era? The Gartner book 'Digital to the Core notes: “Digital business doesn’t just disrupt markets; it disrupts tried and true management behaviours as well.” Change these days happens more quickly, and more frequently, and leaders need to be able to create conditions that encourage purposeful innovation and the ability to adapt as necessary.

The traditional expressions of leadership found within large organisations – command and control, distinct layers of hierarchy and extensive reporting – are all enemies of this fast-acting, fast-reacting approach, and can inhibit the risk-taking and collaboration that are the hallmarks of disrupters.

In this fast-paced environment, the Global Center for Digital Transformation has come up with four characteristics that distinguish agile from non-agile leaders.

Agile leaders are:

1. Humble: They are able to accept feedback and acknowledge that others know more than they do.
2. Adaptable: They accept that change is constant and that changing their minds based on new information is a strength rather than a weakness.
3. Visionary: They have a clear sense of long-term direction, even in the face of short-term uncertainly.
4. Engaged: They have a willingness to listen, interact, and communicate with internal and external stakeholders combined with a strong sense of interest and curiosity in emerging trends.

Super Bowl hero Foles certainly ticks those boxes, proving that great leadership requires the same qualities regardless of the environment.

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