Digital leadership

Digital leadership

New and emerging technologies are changing the way we work, and the idea of digital disruption is something that most businesses have at least heard of. Many have now begun looking at ways to upskill their workforce to keep pace with these technological changes.

New and emerging technologies are changing the way we work, and the idea of digital disruption is something that most businesses have at least heard of. Many have now begun looking at ways to upskill their workforce to keep pace with these technological changes.

However, what many businesses don’t realise is that the transition to a digital organisation can create leadership gaps at a time when leadership development is causing significant challenges for organisations around the world1.

According to Deloitte, the leaders of today need different expertise and skills to previous generations, yet most businesses haven’t moved quickly enough to develop these digital leaders and build new leadership models2. As a result, leadership is on track to become a skills shortage in Australia3.

Deloitte’s ‘The path to prosperity: Why the future of work is human’ report found that today around nine million jobs are recruiting for leadership skills but only around six million people have these skills4. By 2030, over 10 million jobs will be recruiting for leadership skills but the number of people with these skills will remain similar to today at just over six million people5.

This isn’t just worrying for businesses but also for Australia’s economy as a whole. According to the Westpac ‘Businesses of Tomorrow’ report, improving business leadership means better chances of above average revenue growth for businesses and a potential $70 billion improvement in the national income6.

To embrace this opportunity, business leaders need to go beyond looking at ways to bring their workforce with them on a digital transformation journey. They also need to be looking at how they can upskill to become digital leaders who can drive a culture of innovation, continuous improvement and adaptability.

The skills needed now are not going to be the same ones we need tomorrow. How can you best guide your business and your workforce if you’re not involved with that as well?” says The Bridge Inc. General Manager Ausra Wells.

Ausra is a 2018 recipient of a Jobs Victoria International Fellowship to explore innovative strategies to increase pathways from school, education or similar programs into employment for young people currently under-represented due to disadvantage or disability. She is looking at the issue from the perspective of technological change and the growing gap in digital skills.

Ausra says the most important thing for leaders navigating through digital disruption is to be open to change and flexible in how they support their workers to undertake tasks.

“Leaders need to be supporting their workforce, and particularly younger workers, who bring new ways to merge the human and digital worlds together. Often employees are the ones who are able to see different or more efficient ways of doing things, so leaders need to be encouraging this. For a business to be comfortable with change and able to adapt, it’s got to come from the top. You can’t be scared to have a few failures.”

TechnologyOne Group Director – Local Government Peter Suchting agrees that change within business has to be top down.

"You’ve got to start with leadership at the top of the organisation. There has to be an appetite and a desire to want to change because it’s much harder to do that from the bottom up,” says Peter, speaking at the TechnologyOne showcase in Melbourne.

In fact, it seems that it’s less about what you’re doing as a leader and more about how you’re doing it. Digital leadership is about transforming people and ways of working to inspire employees to embrace the benefits of digital transformation.

“Digital transformation is not just about implementing new technology and software,” says Peter.

When we talk about digital transformation, we’re talking about how to take a complex world and simplify it to make it easier and more efficient for everybody involved. One thing is for certain, you can’t keep doing the same old. You have to change your whole mindset and approach.

One way to do this is to embrace an agile way of working, which means prioritising individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working outcomes over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiations, and responding to change over following a plan.

This methodology was pioneered by technology companies and improves the ability of teams to work together to deliver value to the customer quickly and efficiently. It has already been embraced by large businesses including ANZ, Telstra, ANZ, ING, Dulux and AGL to help improve productivity7.

For small and medium sized enterprises, the benefits could be significant.

Agile projects are three times more likely to succeed than projects managed with traditional methods8 and agile approaches improve time-to-market by an average of 18-20%9.

Agile ways of working can also help businesses better integrate digital processes, iterating what and how you do things in response to internal and external feedback.

While embracing new and emerging technology is important for businesses to adapt to the changing digital world, technology alone is not going to be enough to position your business to take full advantage of industry 4.0. You have to think outside the box to roll out products, services and projects much more quickly in response to rapidly changing requirements and technologies.

This will require a cultural shift within leadership to focus on encouraging ideation and experimentation without the fear of making mistakes.

As Deloitte’s ‘The path to prosperity: Why the future of work is human’ report says about leaders, “we don’t need box-ticking, schedules and coordination – we need inspiration, coaching and vision.”

Author: Adelle King

Top image: TechnologyOne Showcase, Melbourne, 2019. 



1 Abbatiello, A, Knight, M, Philpot, S & Roy, I 2017, Leadership disrupted, Deloitte University Press.
2 Ibid.
3 Deloitte 2019, The path to prosperity: Why the future of work is human.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Deloitte Access Economics 2016, Westpac Businesses of Tomorrow Report
7 Durkin, P 2018, 'Is agile working a revolution, a fad or just a cover for lay-offs? ', Australian Financial Review, viewed 14 June, <>.
8 Mersino, A 2018, 'Agile projects are more successful than traditional projects', Vitality Chicago viewed 14 June, <>.
9 Suntinger, M 'Report: agile is the competitive advantage for a digital age', Atlassian, viewed 14 June, <>.



23 December 2019


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