Three Keys To Advancing In The Digital 2020s: Lead, Learn, And Listen | #education | #technology | #training

It takes a digitally savvy enterprise to make it in today’s economy. So, does advancing to the top ranks of an organization — as manager, executive, or as founder of one’s own company — now rely on technology prowess? To some degree, yes — but leading the 2020s organization requires something more. That is, an ability to bring people together and inspire them to advance as well.

“Adopting new technology is just one part of becoming a digitally savvy organization,” says Sara Brown, writing in MIT Sloan Management Review. “Leaders need to make sure employees are on board, too. Focusing too much on the technology and tasks that come with digital transformation leaves out another vital component to successful transitions — a company’s employees, who need to be able to use new technology and feel comfortable and supported in new roles.” Becoming a successful 2020s business leader means facilitating “an ongoing process of ensuring that your people are constantly able to thrive in this world of digital.”

Today’s leaders need to be facilitators, collaborators and coaches. They need to be comfortable with tech — both for personal productivity and for enterprise advancement. To explore the qualities needed to lead in the 2020s, I reached out to business leaders and thinkers to share their observations below and in future articles.

“The technology revolution elevates the importance of quantitative understanding to manage data analysis and leverage information technology and artificial intelligence,” says Gregory Crawford, president of Miami University. “Advances in artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, and similar fields mean that an ‘I’m-not-a-math-person’ approach is probably no longer an option in today’s quantitatively driven world.”

At the same time, “not everyone must have deep expertise in these areas, but they should work for a greater capacity to engage those who do and remain open to learning,” Crawford continues. “For example, they should be able to effectively grasp the interpretation of large data analysis and ask important questions about it to ensure that the information is used appropriately for their organization and insights drawn from data are relevant, robust, and fundamentally sound.”

The type of training and background needed to advance in the digital 2020s has changed. Entrepreneurial skills — for startups, as well as leading new corporate ventures — requires self-guided initiatives. “I took time to learn before I launched my startup, and did so by immersing myself in books, lectures, and speaking with advisors in order to avoid as many landmines as possible when starting this new venture,” says Cherie Kloss, founder and CEO of SnapNurse. “You need to learn how to put together a successful, credible team who can make it easier for you to raise money and who are experienced where you are not. Many pioneers — Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Sam Altman — have all written books on their process, and made videos for YouTube. I watched 20 hours of a course Altman gave at Stanford. There is so much free content available that you can figure out how to start a successful company, and you can do it without a degree in business. You just have to be willing to learn.”

Willingness to learn may even be more important than formal education to advance in today’s organizations. Within his company, “some team members don’t have a formal education beyond high school,” says Richard Walker, president of XL Construction. “But they are learned in that they read a lot, they’re inquisitive and they constantly think about how they can make us better by developing themselves and others. This may be more important than which college or a specific major.”

Advancing in today’s organizations requires “a certain kind of mindsets, not just skills – a person who can learn and grow as industries and the world evolve, collaborate fruitfully, see the future first, make agile pivots to thrive in a changing environment and embrace failure as a stepping stone to success,” says Crawford. “External leadership training such as classes, workshops, and certificates can help, but an individual must practice their own regimen at work to develop important habits – seeking opportunities for creative problem-solving, managing uncomfortable situations, welcoming colleagues and supporting their growth.”

While requirements for specific narrow skills will keep changing, the need for people with a broad range of qualities is now critical. There is a growing demand for “transdisciplinary, entrepreneurial, and inclusive mindsets, in addition to technical skillsets,” says Crawford. Today’s and tomorrow’s leaders need to “work across disciplinary boundaries and think creatively beyond the status quo. The problems society faces are too big and too complex for any one discipline to solve alone.”

This makes it even more critical that leaders get down in the trenches and listen, learn, and collaborate. “I think it’s important to lead from the front,” says Kloss. “As CEO, you need to be willing and able to touch every part of the business. If the recruiting department is struggling, you might need to step in and do some recruiting. Show them how it’s done. Get your hands dirty.”

These requirements cut across all industries. “Adaptability and a willingness to embrace change” is key leadership attributes within the construction sector,” says Walker. This will become only more important in coming years, he predicts, “there’s going to be quite a bit of disruption in the construction sector, given cost pressures, labor shortages and the fact that VCs have identified us as ripe for disruption.”

The qualities that a leader brings in the 2020s extends well past tech, and “include critical thinking, clear communication, ethical and moral reasoning, and human- centered virtues such as intellectual humility and intellectual courage,” says Crawford. These broad qualities “instill wisdom, not just knowledge – an especially valuable asset at a time when vast quantities of information are at our fingertips and require careful analysis and effective narration. They instill openness at a time when the engagement of people from vastly different backgrounds, races, cultures, personal identity, and expertise is vital for progress.”

Today’s emerging leaders “takes a 10,000-foot view. but also gets in the weeds when it’s necessary,” says Kloss. “Otherwise, she can’t see how the pieces are working together or what department is causing the breakdown in productivity. It is important to keep department heads accountable and get into the details so you know departments are running how they should.”

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