Key leadership skills amid digital disruption

Key leadership skills amid digital disruption

Agility, emotional intelligence and a willingness to be a 'host' instead of a 'hero' are essential

Digitisation has become one of the primary sources of disruption globally, making digital transformation not just a choice for organisational growth, but essential for business sustainability.

Digital transformation brings a new set of challenges for leaders. To overcome those challenges, you will need a new style of leadership, new personal skills and a new structure for your organisation to foster the right behaviour in your people.

Robin Gustafsson, professor of strategic management at Palo Alto University, put it this way: “Established theories of business, organisations, strategy, markets and competition lack descriptive, predictive and explanatory power. We are no longer at the cusp of a new digital world order, we are in it.”

So, what does it take for leaders to strive in this new digital paradigm? Here are four key skills you need:

1. Learning Agility and Adaptability

Learning agility is the ability and willingness to learn from every situation you go through in life — including the ones where you have no idea what to do — and to find solutions by adjusting yourself according to the needs of the situation.

Korn Ferry, the multinational management consulting firm, conducted a global assessment which found that “learning agility” is the single highest predictor of executive success, even more than intelligence and education.

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership also found that the most frequently stated success factor for managers was the ability to develop and adapt. The inability to develop and adapt was the most frequently mentioned reason for career failures among managers. 

The Economist magazine also conducted a global survey and found that 90% of organisations believe that agility is most important element for business success. 

2. Emotional and Social Intelligence

A leader who can control his or her emotions, and calmly assess a situation, is more likely to build a better organisational culture and a healthier workplace than a leader who shouts at their team when under stress.

The emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman suggested that emotional intelligence is the primary factor that differentiates a truly effective leader from others. 

TalentSmart, a provider of emotional intelligence (EQ) tests used by many Fortune 500 companies, tested emotional intelligence along with 33 other important workplace skills and found that EQ is the strongest predictor of performance, accounting for 58% of success in all types of jobs.

In another study, 71% of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder said they value emotional ability more than intellectual ability. People with higher emotional intelligence are seen as having a greater likelihood of staying calm under pressure, resolving conflicts effectively, and treating colleagues with empathy.

3. Global Mindset and Cultural Intelligence 

Thomas Friedman gave the title The World is Flat to his best-selling book on globalisation in 2005. Its central premise was that technology has bridged the gaps between countries, businesses and people.

Dr Gary Ranker, Global CEO Coach, known as “the father of executive coaching”, defined a Global Mindset as an openness toward other cultures, other people and other ways of doing things. Leaders of global organisations, he said, need to have the ability to adapt and use the style that is most acceptable depending on the country, culture and people with whom they are working. 

According to a study by the American Management Association, 48% of organisations now consider developing global capabilities in their leaders a top priority.

4. Collective Leadership

Collective leadership is about sharing power and influence. In an article entitled “Leadership in the Age of Complexity”, Margaret Wheatley and Debbie Frieze wrote about the importance of shifting the perception of a leader from being a “hero” to being a “host.”

When leaders are treated as heroes, they are expected to have all the answers, solve all the problems and fix everything for everyone. The problem with this mindset is that it relies on quick solutions that are created by a few people in power at the top of the hierarchy. Often these solutions do not address the complex issues that we face today in the digital world. 

Instead, leaders need to be seen as “hosts”. They should have the skills to promote shared learning, effective group decision-making, reflection, visioning and goal setting, and mutual accountability. 

The digital revolution, like every revolution, can be perceived either as a disruption or as a world of opportunity. It all depends on your level of agility, and openness to change in the process of learning, unlearning and relearning.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or Experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at 

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