Staying Relevant in A Digital Age

From Command and Control to Clarity and Collaboration

Today’s leaders must constantly hone their survival skills if they want to stay on the island. Three to sharpen to stay relevant in the digital world are adaptability, continuous learning, and empathy.

Adaptive Leaders

Effective leaders are expected to adapt to the needs of their collaborators and teams. But adapt how? As a starting point, Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model reminds us that there is no single best style for leading.

Leaders need to be flexible, a bit like parents who adapt their parenting styles as their children mature. Blanchard suggests four leadership styles with varying degrees of direction and support:

· A telling or directive approach. Communication is top-down and the leader basically tells people what to do and how to do it.

· Coaching or mentoring. This relies more on two-way communication, influence, questions, and on-going dialogue.

· A participative approach. This is even more peer-like, with collaborative decisions, on-going support, and less overt direction from the leader.

· Delegation. The leader is involved and accountable, but processes and responsibilities are delegated whenever possible.

A blend of these is often best. Each approach has its place, but the leader mustn’t rely too much on one go-to style.

People learn and develop constantly, and their needs change. If they are to grow as productive, motivated professionals, they need their leaders to grow with them. Their leaders need to adapt to them, not the other way around.

Constant Learners

Not so long ago people were categorised as ‘manual workers’ who used their hands or machines, or ‘knowledge workers’ who manipulated information. But knowledge is basically a commodity now: all we need to obtain it is a computer or a smart phone.

Now the crucial skill is to learn quickly and continuously, applying new insights to evolving situations and environments. The people who do this well remain relevant and constitute a highly-valued category, the ‘learning workers’.

What sets learning workers apart is knowing how to learn. Rather than rely on a static set of skills or knowledge, they learn ‘on the run’, adapting knowledge and insights to emerging opportunities.

Simply knowing things is no longer enough to lead: executives need to be continuous learners to keep up with change and to model adaptability for their teams. Four tips for continuous learning:

· Ask questions and seek help when you don’t understand. Egos and concerns about ‘status’ may make this difficult, but good learners ask questions.

· Learn from people who are more experienced or knowledgeable. A popular example is ‘reverse mentoring’, with tech-savvy collaborators helping older executives learn about technology.

· Actively seek new knowledge and perspectives through courses, on-line seminars, or self-study. Opening our minds to new ideas and interacting with different people is enriching and encourages adaptation.

· Try different ways of doing things. Habit, age and inertia make it easy to find a ‘comfort zone’ and do things the same way every time. That doesn’t encourage learning or adaptability. Be open to new approaches.


The digital revolution can be a double-edged sword: a powerful technological blade that can build or break relationships between businesses, employ­ees, and consumers.

In the tug-of-war between speed and cost containment on one side and our human need to feel connected on the other, loyalty, trust, and personal engagement are often the casualties. Here are three suggestions to make your enterprise more empathic:

· Cultivate listening and tolerance in your organisation. Making the effort to encourage listening and tolerance — and modelling these behaviours — will build empathy, trust, and motivation.

· Make time for conversations. People want to be heard, and having genuine conversations is one of the best ways to build empathy and trust. But conversations require time, attention, and focus, and those are often in short supply. Make the effort.

· Consider empathy an element of your firm’s value chain. Where can technology be put to the best use, and where should human interaction and empathy be preserved? Empathy and trust are important differentiators in business, and they may be strategic assets in your value chain.

Today’s virtual world is demanding that we be flexible, quick to learn, and empathic. An adaptive approach to leadership, greater learning agility, and focused efforts to build empathy and trust will help you stay on the island.

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