Talent Talk

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Great Leader in the Digital Age?

Dan Kimble

In today’s always-on, get-it-done-yesterday world, technology moves at light speed, busy-ness is a competitive sport, and the name of the leadership game has fundamentally changed. Yet, we’re still leading as if we’re trying to optimize the efficiency of a 20th-century steel mill.

Consider this shortlist of the biggest leadership challenges we face in the digital age:

  1.      Remote, disparate teams have become the norm even while projects have grown increasingly complex and interconnected.
  2.      Organizational hierarchies have flattened, while the need for leadership has increased.
  3.      Managers are often also expected to be producers.
  4.      Information overload is commonplace. Are you ever on top of your email inbox?
  5.      50% of the time executives spend in meetings is unproductive and/or poorly run. How many hours a week do you waste in meetings?
  6.      Feedback mechanisms are broken, if present at all. How often do you receive feedback that is truly constructive and has helped you improve?
  7.      We’re more connected than we’ve ever been, yet feel more alone than we’ve ever felt. It’s a myth that email, conference calls, texting and social media can even come close to replacing the ways we most crave connection: face-to-face.
  8.      Focus is almost entirely on profit, product, and process problems – as if they’re separate levers. The fact is you can’t have great profits, products or processes without people who are:
  •        Great at what they do
  •        Motivated to do their best work
  •        Consistently rowing in the same direction

If the above hasn’t yet raised your eyebrows in concern, try these additional statistics on for size:

  •        80% of workers don’t like their jobs.
  •        Only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged.
  •        65% of workers report being stressed to their limits.
  •        46% report behaving in ways at work that they don’t want their loved ones to witness.
  •        67% of workers plan to leave their jobs in the next year.
  •        The average manager spends over 40% of their time resolving conflicts.
  •        Only 4% of employees are inspired by their firm.

So what’s really going on here?  
We’re all smart, motivated, educated people.  How can we collectively let this happen? The answer is simple: We all need to stop pointing fingers elsewhere and look inside instead. 

When I deliver this message in my Leadership Crisis of the Digital Age talk, there’s nearly always a collective look of disbelief in the audience.  It’s like, “That’s it? It’s our fault?!”  It is usually in that moment that I come closest to losing the audience.

Perhaps what you want to hear is that the buck stops elsewhere – it’s your boss, it’s your team, it’s your company culture, it’s your investors, it’s just the world we live in, it’s your senior leadership team. (And if you’re on the senior leadership team, it’s the other leaders.) It’s the responsibility of fill-in-the-blank-with-anyone-other-than-me. 

And that’s the root cause of the problem: So many people are pointing the finger elsewhere, and so few are truly taking responsibility themselves. The fact is, regardless of your role, we each individually need to be doing our part to buck the status quo and make our world a better place to work.  If we’re not actively doing that, then we’re passively a part of the problem.

As a 20-plus-year, Silicon Valley executive coach, I have worked closely with many executives, leaders and producers on these very issues.  The results of a leader changing their perspective and behaviors on these issues can be powerful: Double-digit increases in productivity and doubling of employee engagement are not uncommon outcomes.  To be clear about how that maps to the bottom line, it’s been shown that doubling of employee engagement leads, on average, to EPS increases of 147%.

Yet our default collective behavior too often shows that we don’t treat these issues with anywhere near the importance that they deserve.  When it comes to leadership in the digital age, it’s as if we’re driving 100 miles an hour straight off a cliff, and no one sees the cliff coming.

There are clear key behaviors and beliefs that underlie nearly all great leaders in the digital age.  Unfortunately far too many of these necessary beliefs and behaviors are fundamentally different than what is widely practiced. 


To learn more about leadership qualities in the digital age, download a free copy of Dan’s latest insights paper, “Evolution of a Leader: Discover what 85% of Your Leaders May Be Costing You.”

Dan Kimble is a thought leader, executive coach, keynote speaker, and a 20-plus-year veteran of Silicon Valley. Dan is the creator of The 80 Percent Leadership Solution™, a highly practical leadership and team coaching approach that rapidly gets to the heart of the matter and drives real business value in record time. Driven leaders and teams engage with Dan because of his cut-to-the-chase clarity, wisdom, proven leadership experience, and highly compassionate approach that quickly enables leaders and teams to perform at their very best every single day; satisfied clients include Cisco, EMC and Mastercard.

References: Yamlabs, The Atlantic, Gallup, Forbes, Business Insider, Kelly Services, The Economist, Mediate.com

Tags: leadership; leaders; digital age; future of work;