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Leadership in a Digital Age

Stephanie Hopper

Fast-paced technological change is transforming how we develop our future leaders. At our Leadership in a Digital age event, hosted by Ofcom, attendees highlighted the challenges that businesses face in preparing leaders for this change. Presentations by Ofcom, Aviva and Headspace, followed by in-depth group discussion identified three key themes that are shaping our approach to leadership development:

1. Don’t forget your people

With the focus of the event being on leadership in the digital age, it would be easy to think that the key themes to come out of the session would have been centred automation, AI and all other tech trends in HR at the moment. But instead, the overwhelming message from the day was the importance of people. With the ever-changing landscape that technology offers, it’s pivotal to have the right leaders to navigate both themselves and their teams through the challenges that the digital age provides.

Aviva’s Simon Tarver finished his presentation by asking the question ‘how well do you know your people?’. The responses were varied, but it highlighted the importance of such a simple question. It’s easy to get swept up by the wave of technology and automation, but organisations have to be more and more wary that it doesn’t come at the expense of your people.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just technology that was discussed in the breakout session after Simon’s presentation – there were also conversations around the insights, or perhaps lack of, that you get into your hires through a traditional competency based interview. The traditional model can and will often just focus on how good someone will be at doing a specific job rather than getting an authentic insight into who they are and what truly energises them. This not only means you could be missing out on hiring a candidate with great potential, but if they feel like they can’t be their true selves in the role, you won’t get the best out of them.

2. The importance of being present

Headspace’s Ria Ingleby highlighted some research that suggests we spend 47% of our time lost in thought. With technology making the world noisier and more distracting by the day, it’s important for all of us – leaders especially – to be self-aware and try to spend more time in the present rather than pondering the past or looking ahead to the future.

Being more mindful also impacts the way we react. Headspace studies have shown that people who focus on mindfulness are less rash in their decision making and act less aggressively. Being more mindful can allow you to be the best version of yourself in any given moment which, as a leader, not only provides a great platform to overcome the challenges of the digital age, it can also allow you to empower others to become better versions of themselves too.

This then allows for a shift from a ‘doing’ culture to more of a ‘being’ culture – something that was highlighted by all 3 speakers. Ria spoke about the importance of remembering that we are human beings, not human doings, and how being your authentic self at work will not only enable you to do your best work, but also provides a better platform to empower others to do the same.

3. Strengths for the leaders of the future

A big theme from the breakout discussions was the need for leaders to be adaptable, self-aware and resilient. In the past, they could look back and call on their experiences to overcome similar situations, but in the digital age there is nothing in the past that could directly help you to deal with situations that the future will present. Unknown advances in technology will equate to unknown challenges, so leaders will have to be prepared to embrace the ambiguity and navigate their way

through it without being disheartened. Self-awareness is touted as a meta-skill of 21st Century leadership and can aid them in navigating these situations, as they will better understand themselves as well as their impact on others.

Another key strength that quickly became a focus in the discussions was compassion. If leaders aren’t compassionate, people can quickly become disengaged – good leaders will find a way of connecting with people, which is arguably more important than ever in the digital age.

Thank you to everyone who attended, especially our speakers:

  • Kerri-Ann O’Neill, People and Transformation Director, Ofcom
  • Simon Tarver, SME Accelerator People Lead, Aviva
  • Ria Ingleby, EMEA Engagement Manager, Headspace

Stephanie Hopper

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Director of Development Solutions, Cappfinity Ltd

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Development Solutions at Cappfinity are focused on combining technology with human insight to deliver innovative, data-led development solutions that drive behavioural change.

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