Digital Leadership Education: Has Its Time Finally Come?

Digital Leadership Education

Recent opportunities for The Denovati Group may be an indication that we’re finally approaching a tipping point when it comes to digital leadership education, training that can help current and aspiring leaders at all levels better prepare themselves for today’s digital realities and their digital futures. In this article I underscore the need for these programs and offer some thoughts on what they should include and how they should be delivered.

In the latest Denovati email blast (Not on our mailing list? Click here to sign up), I shared the news that I will be teaching a course entitled Becoming a Digital Leader in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia this November. Co-hosted by ADMA and Which-50, the course is a first-of-its-kind offering designed to help current and aspiring leaders at all levels better prepare themselves for today’s digital realities and their digital futures.

I was also recently invited by GAIA Insights to contribute to a proposal for an Executive Education program being developed for a global pharmaceutical company. I commend the company for identifying digital sophistication as a core element of leadership development – a critical yet heretofore undervalued competency.

Could these opportunities be an indication that we’re finally approaching a digital literacy tipping point? Are the forces for change converging into a sufficiently powerful impetus to overcome resistance to change? Are organizations recognizing that the Digital Era requires digitally sophisticated leaders at all levels and in all functional areas? Are they willing to devote resources to ensuring their leaders have the necessary capabilities to pursue the opportunities and tackle the challenges that social and digital technologies present? Time will tell, of course, but I’d love to think we’re getting there.

I have been fully immersed in the applications and implications of social and digital technologies for most of the past decade. That immersion has led me to the following truths:

  1. We are living and working in the Digital Era. It’s not coming, it’s not just getting started, it’s here. In fact, we can easily trace the era’s roots back to the early part of the 20th century. Since then, technology has advanced in profound ways, but in many respects we’ve only just gotten started. Digital technologies being developed now are far more sophisticated and powerful than anything that’s already been implemented. And there’s no telling what’s to come.
  2. Technology is a means to an end, not an end undo itself, and it should be leveraged to meet the needs of people, organizations, economies and societies. Put another way, technology adoption and adaptation are fundamentally human endeavors. That means that humans and human systems are key to harnessing and managing technology effectively.
  3. Humans and human systems are not keeping pace with technological change, which is creating a rapidly growing digital divide that’s based not just on access and cost, but on knowledge, understanding and use. Most of these systems – economic, legal, and educational, for example – are still based on Industrial Era principles and assumptions and have only minimally adapted to today’s realities. Similarly, many people are functionally illiterate when it comes to truly understanding the roles that technology plays in their lives, and what the potentially profound implications of those roles are.
  4. Organizations of all types and sizes in all sectors need to be digitally transformed, as do the groups and individuals within them. That transformation requires strong digital leadership, which in turn requires high levels of digital literacy and sophistication.
  5. Regardless of how old a person is, Digital Era challenges and opportunities have the potential to dominate their work life and career for the foreseeable future. There are very few sectors, industries, and professions – and therefore very few workers – that are immune to technology’s effects. All jobs have a digital dimension to them and being effective in one’s role increasingly requires digital sophistication.

Digital leadership education enables both individuals and organizations to adapt to these realities and become both more efficient and more effective. As noted above, it should be designed to help current and aspiring leaders at all levels better prepare themselves for today’s digital realities and their digital futures. The programs should start with a broad-brush overview of digital technologies and trends and then dive into the process of becoming a digital organization – not just in terms of external applications like marketing, branding, customer service, public relations and sales – but also with respect to things like business strategy, governance, research and development, operations, human capital management, and change.

Digital leadership education programs should include a mix of lectures/presentations, case studies, discussions and hands-on practical exercises to prepare participants to transform themselves, their colleagues and their organisations for their digital futures. They should involve multi-directional learning, with participants learning from both the instructor and each other, in addition to enhancing the expertise and insights of the instructor as well. Ideally they would be delivered in person.

Participants should leave digital leadership education programs with a toolkit and access to resources uniquely designed to help them build on past successes while mapping out new directions. These resources, supplemented by informal digital communities, should enable them to engage in continuous learning, so they can stay informed and adapt as technologies and their applications and implications evolve. Finally, where necessary and appropriate, formal and informal group learning should be supplemented by individual digital coaching customized to meet leaders’ specific needs.

Are you aware of any digital leadership education programs offered by academic institutions, professional associations, consulting firms and/or private companies? If so, I’d love to learn more about them!

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