Leadership in the Era of Digital Disruption

by Dushyant Sukhija


The rapid advancement of technology continues to change the world — and the marketplace — faster than many businesses can keep up with, disrupting all their plans and threatening to render them obsolete. It may be time for business leaders to take the initiative and start doing a little disrupting of their own.

In this era of “digital disruption” — which refers to how technology can transform everything about the way businesses are run and interact with customers — leaders who don’t transform to master the digital era to disrupt will get disrupted. And it will be a brutal disruption, where the majority of companies will not exist in a meaningful way 10 to 15 years from now.

Those in leadership positions can guide their organizations through the new digital era by following a simple five-step operational blueprint:

Build and execute a compelling vision. Business leaders need to focus on developing a vision that is disruptive to their industry, and think three to five years out. They should engage their customers and partners in the process, clarify and articulate the value to their stakeholders, and ensure that their entire organization and ecosystem internalize and drive in formation toward that vision. They must build robust execution plans to work toward it, review their performance regularly and make course corrections when needed.

Adopt a partner-centric model to deliver. Collaboration is core to delivering superior competitive advantage with speed in the new digital world. Business leaders need to pick the right partners to build unique and sustainable value for their customers. They will need to convince their partners and customers of their vision and strategy, and demonstrate their ability to innovate and create new markets.

Reinvent yourself. A nimble organization that can read market transitions and adapt itself to refocus on cheaper and faster ways to deliver new customer value is best suited to lead through the digital disruption. Business leaders must deploy a governance process to listen, learn, execute, lead and adjust to changing market dynamics and competitiveness.

Turn people into the business’s secret weapon. Employees are the true intellectual capital of every company, and that means businesses must invest in their people to enable them to become the catalysts to help in navigating the digital transformation. Business leaders need to align employees to a common goal and create a nurturing environment, and harness their intellectual horsepower to drive exceptional thought leadership and repeatability of proven leading practices.

Accelerate the speed of innovation. Innovation is not just about the technology but also about how the business leaders organizes himself, how he engages his customers, and how he drives cultural change through his organization. Resource sharing and clustering talent should come into laser-sharp focus to get closer to customers and streamline the business. It’s important to learn from the customers by engaging them in the business’s innovation cycles. Business leaders must become nimble to react to changing market needs and adapt to them.

Digital disruption is bound to propel the rise of new companies that master the digital transformation, and bring about the demise of those that fail to do so. Business leaders can either take the steps to embrace it or risk being left behind.

Dushyant Sukhija, a former executive with Cisco Systems, is author of The Cisco Way: Leadership Lessons Learned from One of the World’s Greatest Technology Services Companies. He has an MBA from Santa Clara University in California and a Bachelor of Technology degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, India. As a Silicon Valley thought leader and insider, he now shares his insights as a speaker at forums around the world.

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