IMD Center Research
Ref: Temp_27125


Redefining Leadership for a Digital Age

Michael R. Wade

By Professor Michael R. WadeMichael R. Wade, Andrew Tarling and Rainer Neubauer

What does it mean to be an effective leader in an environment characterized by increasing digital disruption?

To address this question, the DBT Center undertook a major study along with specialist HR Consultancy metaBeratung. Data was collected from two sources: a survey of 1,042 executives, and in-depth interviews with nineteen digital leaders, all conducted between October 2016 and January 2017.

The research revealed that leadership effectiveness in disruptive environments shared many of the same characteristics as leadership in more stable environments, but with a few notable differences. We were able to identify a number of key competencies and business behaviors of Agile Leaders who thrive in this type of environment.

Four characteristics 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.

n addition, we found that Agile Leaders exhibited three key behaviors helping them to successfully navigate disruptive environments. They are:

  1. Hyperawareness: They are constantly scanning internal and external environments for opportunities and threats.
  2. Making Informed Decisions: They make use of data and information to make evidence-based decisions.
  3. Executing at Speed: They are able to move quickly, often valuing speed over perfection.

We found that Agile Leaders, those leaders who rated highly on the competencies and behaviors mentioned above, tended to significantly out-perform other leaders on measures such as work engagement and leadership effectiveness. 

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