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10 Leadership Disciplines For Today's Digital Age

HubSpot Video

What makes a GREAT leader in today's digital age?

Here's what I've discovered, they all operate using the same 10 Leadership Disciplines...

Discipline 1: Creating a high performance environment where success is inevitable

Man with arms outstretched looking at office building

Understanding the role of a leader in our Digital Age is a vital starting point for your success. It’s really easy to confuse our digital world with a complete focus on technology. 

Our digital world is about people, mindset and behaviour utilising technology and creating new value propositions and ways of working.

Developments like the automation of work and the digital disruption of business models place a premium on leaders who can land change quickly and effectively – and with less cost!

I believe the role of a leader in today’s world is to create a high performance environment where success is inevitable.

When leadership teams start challenging themselves on whether they have done that or not the world will be a better place! 

Discipline 2: Awakening possibility in people to deliver extraordinary results

Silhouette of person jumping over water as sun sets

I believe leadership is all about energy, frequency, resonance and people. Therefore, the purpose of leadership is to awaken possibility in people to deliver extraordinary results. 

Whilst the role of leadership is to create a high-performance environment where success is inevitable, operating effectively in a digital world is really about people. 

“Art isn’t really about drawing, it’s about seeing. Leadership isn’t really about doing, it’s about being.” Graham Wilson

Leadership is about role modelling and creating a high performance team. It is about understanding people and building trust. It is about building confidence in people so they can deliver amazing results.

I see so many over managed/under led organisations where the role of the manager seems to be to destroy confidence, to destroy people and to ensure they’re disengaged and unable to achieve great results.

We need to flip that around and start to focus our leaders on the individuals and the teams that are there to deliver the results we need. For me that’s about awakening possibility and coaching for high performance whilst ensuring people feel safe and supported.

It’s all about developing people, helping them to learn, helping them to grow and realise that they can achieve so much more than they think is possible. I would like to propose that the key purpose of a leader is to make sure they challenge people, they work with people and they awaken the possibility in their people and help them to achieve extraordinary results.

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Discipline 3: Operating with boldness, simplicity and speed

Neon sign saying I am bold

To operate at the pace required today, gaining clarity about the role and purpose of leadership is vital. We also need to have principles to guide us. In times of uncertainty making decisions and moving forward is a great way to remove fear and anxiety. Having a set of principles helps to remind us what we should be doing. 

We need to be bold, we need to simplify things and we need to operate with speed.

Discipline 4: Striving to be 100% Authentic

Man wearing headphones and looking at computer screen while sun sets

We need to understand ourselves and have a story to tell, we need to develop an authentic leadership brand, build on our strengths, be comfortable with being vulnerable, happy to be ourselves, share our leadership philosophy, build trust, be positive, healthy, resilient and happy.

We must become self-aware and play to our strengths. It’s about creating an environment where people trust you as a leader. They get you, they buy into you, they understand where you are coming from and they want to follow. It comes from being 100% authentic.

One of the key things I recommend is to really start to build your self-awareness as a leader. Understand who you really are and make sure you are playing to your strengths and you build on your strengths. You need to build a Leadership Brand and be able to talk about your leadership philosophy. 

I think another aspect of being 100% authentic is around energy and having the energy to be able to drive change and drive performance in the business. I think resiliency is a really important element.

Being healthy and having vitality are all parts of the jigsaw of being authentic. As a leader I think you need to be healthy, you need to understand how to manage high levels of stress and challenge. You need to thrive on a constantly changing environment. So building your health, your strength, your fitness, your flexibility and your resiliency is a key aspect. People are more likely to follow an authentic leader full of vitality!

Discipline 5: Inspiring Action

Close up of film set clapper board

Purpose needs to be at the heart of everything we do, we need to serve, make a difference, have courage, go out on a limb, be bold, challenge, support, provide safety, tell stories and give examples that give meaning to inspire action and create a sense of real value.

This is all about our ability to be able to communicate vision and strategy with meaning, without a fan base it will die! It is about our ability to take a complex situation and distil it into something that will inspire action. It is about your ability to create the right culture to achieve the results you are looking for. 

We must have the skills to be able to inspire people to want to take action. We need the ability to tell stories, encourage constructive dialogue, to use metaphor, to communicate in a way that ensures people are fully engaged, they have emotional commitment to be there and make a difference. 

As a leader, we are purpose maximisers, we create a sense of real value, we help people believe they can make a difference.

We need to create a framework that provides direction and flexibility. We need to move from command and control to a more promise based execution of strategy in an evolving way.

We need to create an effective way for everyone in our organisation to be able to make decisions easily and without having to ask for authorisation from layers of managers. 

We must inspire action and action at pace.

Discipline 6: Creating High Performance Teams

Team of young people having a meeting

In our digital world we need to work at breakneck speed to grab opportunities and overcome challenges, otherwise we get left behind by the competition. This is no place for slow moving organisations. 

We need to be able to create cross functional, virtual, remote and global teams really quickly. We need to be comfortable with collaboration, empowerment, autonomy and know how to build sustained team performance. 

When we look at today’s world and all the ambiguity and complexity it brings we also need to build alliances, partnerships, global teams, multicultural teams, and virtual teams. All require a high level of skill and process to create effectively and quickly. 

Many of the commercial opportunities that are out there today require organisations to put a multi-disciplined team together quickly and efficiently. 

If we focus on deliverables and don’t bother with enabling the team for success we fall foul of the ‘attendees’ syndrome. This is where you have ‘attendees’ rather than a group of highly engaged and enabled people doing great stuff together. The problem is many leaders rely on a strategy of hope when it comes to building teams. You need to learn how to do it and become a teambuilding wizard! 

Your job is to set up and develop a team who can move from being managed by you to ultimately being self managed and you adopting a leadership role. Your job is to make yourself redundant. By the way, you can get promoted then. You can’t if you are the controlling manager. If I did promote you your team results would crash.

Think about that for a while!

Discipline 7: Unleashing innovation

Light bulb turned on on wooden surface

We need to create a culture where everyone comes up with great ideas to improve performance and add value. We need to innovate in every aspect of business. We must ensure we are relentless discoverers and exploit technology and platforms.

Innovation rarely fails due to a lack of ideas or creativity. It is usually down to a lack of nurturing ideas along a hazardous journey where they can be killed in an instant.

Great innovators know how to focus on the right ideas, engage the business and markets behind the ideas and know how to implement the ideas effectively. They are comfortable with experimentation and failure.

Great innovators also use many types of innovation. Doblin, the innovation group, has developed a really practical framework focussing on 10 types of innovation. 

Their research shows how many organisations focus their innovation effort solely on their offering in terms of product performance and complementary services. The challenge with putting all your effort there is that the real value in today’s world is to innovate around the profit model, networks, structure, core processes, channel, brand and customer engagement. 

We need to build partnerships and networks inside and outside our organisations to drive insights and ideas. We need to compete and collaborate with our competitors. 

We as leaders in this digital age must unleash innovation in all that we do, create a culture where everyone owns innovation and then and only then will breakthroughs really happen. 

Discipline 8: Managing Ambiguity and Risk

Jenga game close to falling

We need to be comfortable with paradoxes, make the complex simple, understand the need for evolving plans and be agile. We need to be mentally tough and resilient to deal with a world in perpetual crisis, opportunity and change. We need to anticipate more and kill risk quickly. Calculated risk is good and we need to be able to fail fast to succeed sooner. We also need to stay in touch with the real world.

Managing ambiguity is all about educating people and using AND thinking rather than using our classically trained OR thinking modality. 

I see so many organisations cutting costs in order to hit short term profit targets. They spend a couple of years stripping out cost only to find after a while they have gone too far and the customers are leaving in droves. Guess what? They then start spending a fortune on customer service initiatives!

The problem is they are using ‘OR’ thinking and it’s where we get the pendulum effect. 2 years of cost cutting, followed by 2 years of customer and quality focus, followed by 2 years of cost cutting… get the picture? 

This is often called the 2 year CEO cycle and how many consultancies make large sums of money!

They are asking the wrong question. We need to use ‘AND’ thinking and ask ourselves how to reduce costs AND at the same time add more value to our customers. This is at the heart of value innovation and so important for organisations today. We need to make sure we get the best of both worlds.

Managing risk isn’t about not taking risks. When you manage risk correctly you can start to take more risks because you have ways of working that remove the risks before they happen. Effective governance, anticipation and early action is the key.

Discipline 9: Educating People

Two women focusing on a desktop computer

We need to build awareness and desire to learn and change the way we operate in a world where the rules have changed. We need to help people and organisations really learn. We must inspire curiosity, promote learning and ensure agility. We must only ‘tell’ when direction is absolutely needed. We need to ensure learning is applied, lead with questions, coach, mentor, teach, develop and nurture capability.

All change happens and starts by changing mindsets. In our digital world, where we are having to change and transform quickly, it makes sense to be a master of educating people. How many leaders really know how to build awareness and desire for change. If you want to accelerate your organisational growth you have to accelerate learning.

It’s not about telling anymore it is about taking people on a journey. It is about creating space for learning, mistakes will happen but it is only failure if learning isn’t applied.

One of the ways to future proof your business is to create change leaders, what I call Secret Agents of Change, at every level. I created the ChangePro Framework and online development programme to develop project and change leaders to be able to deliver change faster, more easily and in a more effective way. By changing the way they think, feel and do, it accelerates the action. They become more efficient and more effective. (Find out more at www.changepro.co.uk)

We need to spend time educating to ensure we get more of the right stuff done effectively and efficiently! Organisations must become more competitive to survive and thrive.

Discipline 10: Delivering at Pace

Close up of the starting position on a running track

We need to have the skills to translate strategy into meaning and inspire action, we need to join the dots, be comfortable speeding up by slowing down, deliver through people and teams, and execute at pace.

Simplicity of execution is key here, you as a leader need to operate around four key elements. Your purpose (the Why), your goals (the What) and the plan (the How) - and all of this has to align to your values (the Way). It is so easy to miss some of the elements and jump into delivery of task. Make sure that everyone on the team knows the why, the what, the how and the way. Keep it simple and make all your decisions around these four elements. 

With clarity in place and a team of skilled operators you can manage by exception. This gives you time to do the leadership stuff rather than be bogged down in routine management ‘fire-fighting.’ 

You can get out of their way and let them perform! You can start to operate and set up personal routines that enable you to take control rather than be controlled by emails and crisis. 

Another key element of delivering with speed is the quality of the reviews held by leaders. It is important to have regular learning reviews to keep on track. It is a great way to celebrate success, ensure clarity, reward people, give recognition and to stimulate learning and continuous improvement. 

Every success,


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About the author

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson

I enjoy and specialise in teaching leadership skills, how to create winning strategies, how to build high performance cultures. Outcomes and results are the most important measures for me!