6 mindset traits of disruptive digital leaders
Leadership

6 mindset traits of disruptive digital leaders

This is a contributed article by Graham Waller, Distinguished Research Vice President, Gartner

Successful business leaders today are becoming digitally-minded disrupters in order to transform and future-proof their organisations. But while many company CEOs and CIOs recognise that a shift to digital-integration is necessary to adapt to a changing world, many fail to see how important their own mindset is to the success of this transition.

Digital transformation is rapidly changing the world and how we do business, however, the core expectations and beliefs of business executives often remain hardwired. Changing mindset isn't always easy and can require conscious effort. For business leaders contemplating digital transformation, this shift in mindset is essential. The mindset of management represents the filter through which they interpret and act on information, and make key decisions on which business success is predicated. It's essential therefore for managers to train themselves to think like digital leaders in order to transform their businesses.

In the face of digital transformation, two distinct types of business leadership mindset have come to the fore today. On one side is the incumbent marketplace player, who prefers to invest only in a solid business case and focus on predictability over speed and innovation. On the other is the digital-era market disrupter, who manages risk by failing fast and prefers to focus on innovation and speed over predictability. The key to success is to understand your own mindset in relation to this divide. And to gauge your own digital dexterity against that of successful disruptive digital leaders, there are six mindset traits you must adapt.

Uncertainty is a positive

Today's disruptive digital leaders accept that uncertainty is inevitable. Instead of worrying about the unknown, they constantly seek the positive - exploring technological solutions and market disrupting opportunities - and the risk-reward tradeoffs.

This doesn't mean throwing caution to the wind, however, in terms of decisions of fiscal accountability. On the contrary, it about strategic planning that embraces change and the positivity of uncertainty, while sidestepping the falsehood of predictability.

Ideas are solutions

Digitally-minded disrupters see ideas as strategies to leapfrog competitors and take market advantage. Unlike traditional business thinking, which is incremental and associates ideas with novelty and risk, digital leaders view ideas as solutions.

But despite this visionary mindset, business decisions are still rooted in fiscal discipline as part of the overall enterprise strategy. And while future technologies are volatile and user adoption difficult to predict, digital leaders are driven by the challenge. Ideas translate into breakthrough technologies and solutions, and ultimately to net business value.

Think competitive levers

Today's digital leaders know the difference between superficial technological gimmicks and the underlying digital-era competitive levers. Their essential goal is to lead in areas such as platform-based business model economics.

In this way, future-focused business leaders should concentrate on the levers critical to sustaining or growing competitive advantage as a core business competency.

No waiting and seeing

The digital leader's mindset isn't encumbered by a wait and see mentality. As the most successful disrupters have proven, it's essential to strike while the iron is hot. While you wait, competitors will be seizing the opportunity to innovate and grow.

Digital disruptors - such as lean startups - harness experimentation as a path to new value. They proceed with a start, experiment, learn and iterate approach - instead of waiting for assurances and certainties before proceeding. A well-grounded strategy based on expected business outcomes, and underpinned by digital levers, is their core strength.

Creative thinking

Risk-averse companies are too slow to innovate. In a world of digital disruption, businesses must be able to innovate faster than their competitors. This is why digital leaders are focused on creative thinking as a means to establish a truly innovative culture throughout their organisation. This means nurturing creativity, risk-taking and discovery from junior hires to boardroom level.

While many businesses remain bogged down in traditional industry rules, disrupters encourage creative thinking and dexterity, as well as embracing learning from inevitable failures along the way. They're therefore much better equipped to succeed in the digital world.

Think digital talent

Disruptive CIOs cite access to essential skills such as data science as the key barrier to success. At the top of the list for successful digital leaders is hiring and unleashing the best digital talent. They understand that those with engineering, science and data skillsets have become some of the most prized assets in the digital era.

But top-notch talent is motivated by more than just financial rewards. Digital leaders understand this and are skilled at creating a compelling sense of purpose to attract and reward talent. Leading companies allow key talent to work on preferred projects - and might even let them select their own manager.  Moreover, talent appreciates being part of an innovative organisation that understands the digital ecosystem, and which will actively help them to achieve greater career succeed as part of evolving business world.


Graham Waller is a Research Vice President in Gartner's Digital Business Leadership research team. He works primarily with CIOs, CEOs and digital business leaders with an emphasis on contemporary leadership and realising business advantage via technology.

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