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Five Lenses for Digital Leaders

The concept of lens is an important framework to help leaders filter out distractions and concentrate on what’s truly important.

Our visual senses account for over 80 percent of external information reaching our brains. Although sight isn’t our only sense, it functions as an important tool for humans and leaders. Whatever helps us see better is worth investment and care.

The same is true in business. For digital-savvy leaders to be effective in the digital business environment, five lenses have particular value: adaptive focus, paradox, collaboration, diversification, and transformation. Here are ways that leaders can hone each part of their visual senses.

Adaptive Focus: the ability to create and actively adjust a vision for the organization

In the fast-changing digital environment, successful leaders bring agility to vision-setting while still making the goals tangible and aspirational. In the past, conventional business visioning was more internally focused and less of an ongoing process. Visions were often set without holistic stakeholder considerations and then updated every few years as part of a stable strategic planning process. Today’s vision lens for leaders requires:

  • Broader horizons and fewer internal-only concerns
  • Continuous fine-tuning, using data to differentiate between short and longer-term
  • Active engagement and continuous sensing and adapting—it can’t be “set and forget’

Leadership vision includes the foresight to morph products to services that set up long-term relationships, and lead collaborations of new types between people, machines, and data. Leaders must be able to motivate the workforce to move through ambiguity to reach unfamiliar destinations. They have to accentuate the positives while still being mindful of the perils. They have to promote experimentation, assess and adapt to unintended consequences, and remove the barriers and concerns that naturally occur in times of fundamental change.  Leaders succeed when they keep their vision lens open and active,  working to focus on the horizon as the dynamic environment continuously changes.

Paradox: the ability to lead through seeming contradictions

The digital era brings challenges that require leaders to suspend automatic responses and adopt new mindsets that allow them to embrace seeming contradictions. For example, automation is creating new jobs, as explained in the 2019 ManpowerGroup report Humans Wanted: Robots Need You.  As a leader in the digital era you are asking your organization to work within multiple paradoxes such as:

  • More automation, but exponentially more human connection through collaboration
  • More data to accelerate decisions but more time needed to analyze and interpret it
  • Greater focus on innovation yet increased attention to the details of operation
  • More shared data, yet increased security, protection and boundaries 
  • More employee-centric work cultures yet increased stress about future employability
  • More hardware and electronics yet the need to improve our connection with nature 
  • Leveraging what was good about legacy while transforming the organization

Through the paradox lens, a patient leader can see new possibilities within contrasting states and find growth and harmony in digital business situations where no playbook exists.

Collaboration: the ability to partner and integrate

No business goes on the digital journey alone. Mastering soft skills such as collaboration is the new default for how to share information, be innovative, and accelerate performance. Business today requires policy and regulatory relationships, partner networks, customer communities, and employee groups.

As companies move through transformation, leaders need a high degree of empathy, communication, and internal and external feedback loops about innovation, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction. As digitally native companies become mature, they enter into more collaborations in order to scale the business.

Collaboration has significant organizational and business implications; it needs structures and management well beyond open cubicle designs and social platforms. While digital era work arrangements seem less physical at times, they are actually changing the structures of working relationships. There are more ways to collaborate and fewer excuses not to. 

Diversification: the ability to be/do multiple things at any point in time

Diversification is the life force of healthy ecosystems. Differentiating and branching out, sharing responsibilities and opportunities, flexing and modularizing can uncover new capabilities, spread risk, and improve performance. This digital era demands that leaders foster diverse, creative ideas about products, services, and the teams that make them happen.

Considering different ways of structuring, managing and operating teams and programs is one of the hallmarks of a culture of innovation, setting the stage for increased trust and inclusion, as well as greater experimentation and learning. The diversification and collaboration lenses are complementary and used together are a powerful tool to help organizations take full advantage of the new possibilities and connections possible in the digital era.

Transformation: the ability to enable significant, whole-scale change

Last but not least, leaders must see the challenges as well as the opportunities of Digital Workforce Transformation. Transformation as a leadership lens implies seeing connections across the enterprise and working simultaneously on multiple parts of the business or organizational system. This includes strategies, business models, structures, roles, culture, technologies, systems and platforms and more.

Fundamental shifts occurring at the same time in multiple areas require an emphasis on people and culture transformation even more than technical and data transformation. Developing new methods of working, as well as upskilling and reskilling talent are critical. This lens requires the ability to execute while being in experimentation and fast-fail mode and to be comfortable with cyclic processes and shifts in equilibrium.

These leadership lenses comprise a good starting toolkit regardless of where your organization or business is on the digital journey. Using these lenses can get you organized for digital era leadership and understand what it takes to be successful. Do you know where your company current stands in its path to digital maturity?