What makes someone a great leader in the digital economy?

What makes someone a great leader in the digital economy?

What will great leadership look like in five years? What about in 10? Douglas Ready, a senior lecturer in organizational effectiveness at MIT Sloan and an expert on executive development, has lately been considering these questions as part of a Big Ideas research initiative with MIT Sloan Management Reviewand Cognizant. Ready has been thinking, too, about why they matter: we are becoming an ever more digital economy, and leadership must adapt.

Percentage of managers who strongly agree their leaders have the skills to transition to the digital economy.

Ready asserts that a handful of leadership characteristics will endure no matter what. Integrity comes to mind, as do courage and the ability to execute. But other contextual characteristics, as he describes them, must be responsive to the evolving world of business.

“So, whereas crafting a vision and a strategy is an enduring leadership characteristic, doing so in a transparent, inclusive, and collaborative manner is a contextual characteristic, given the expectations of the new workforce,” Ready writes in a recent article in MIT Sloan Management Review. “Great leaders will need to more artfully merge the ‘what’ with the ‘how’ to thrive in tomorrow’s world.”

“Leading Into the Future” is the first in a yearlong exploration of the future of leadership in the digital economy. The research team is tackling a broad range of subjects related to this issue through a global survey and in-depth executive interviews with those most heavily involved in digital transformation. Below are three insights offered from the series so far.

Mind the mindset gap

In partnership with MIT Sloan Management Reviewand Cognizant, Ready surveyed more than 4,000 managers and leaders from over 120 countries on their preparedness for the transition to a digital economy. Only 12% of respondents strongly agreed that their organizations’ leaders had the right mindset and 9% strongly agreed that their leaders had the proper skills to lead in the digital economy.

To Ready, this “mindset gap” is more concerning than the skills deficit. “We can train for the digital skills that are important for future success,” he writes. “But developing a digital mindset is a more complex challenge because it is a less tangible one to address.” And as long as the mindset gap exists, so do critical blind spots about how the digital economy is eroding old ways of doing business.

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