The digital revolution has launched a new era of human empowerment and engagement across business, society and in every aspect of our lives. Never before has there been a more powerful influence on human behavior, irrespective of country or culture, than the combined effect of digital technologies. The effects of this shift on society are tremendous and, in particular, are dramatically changing our leadership responsibilities whether in politics, professionals in business, teachers in school or parents raising children.
Leading in the new digital world is like walking a very thin tightrope. Digital platforms deliver immense value, enabling us to connect, collaborate and broaden our minds – raising awareness about important issues, bringing people together for a common purpose and achieving new breakthroughs. But these very same technologies can also cause people to feel isolated and disconnected, leaving them vulnerable to the malicious intent of digital perpetrators and as we have seen in recent times, even terrorist activity. The opportunity for users to fulfill the need for social interaction, entertainment and learning is almost equal to the risk of impairment to cognitive, emotional and behavioral development and even mental health issues. Digital technology is extremely powerful at either end of the spectrum, and leaders have a heightened sense of responsibility to answer the call to action.
I had the honor of having lunch a few weeks ago with Mutsumi Takahashi, chef d’antenne and anchor of CTV News Canada, in Montreal. She explained how digital disruption has changed the media industry and the very notion of “broadcasting”. In the past, the information that was disseminated by media contained a wide, comprehensive range of content that viewers could use to obtain a full view of the news. Today, that is no longer the case and consumers now demand (and customize) content to match their world view. The results are a new world where opinion is fact and the truth is debatable. As Sanjay Nazerali of Dentsu Aegis Network said, “I don’t need to believe in anything anymore because it has a user rating of 4.6. So, the whole notion of trust is now earned largely by collective experience rather than the symbols of faith.”
As the World Economic Forum asserted, “You either disrupt or are disrupted.” This statement rightfully puts pressure on leaders to change, not just with the curve, but to be ahead of the curve. CEOs, world leaders, teachers and parents alike must be initiators of change and assume responsibility for creating the digital culture and mindset and to generate a thoughtful and fruitful digital experience for those they lead (and often love). Most leaders are painfully behind and must quickly to get up to speed and:
- Become a student of all things digital. Whether it is connecting with employees using the latest social media tool, engaging with your children, revamping outdated policies, or simply reading emerging research, leaders must be the first adopters of digital trends and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
- Forget hierarchy. The digital world is one of empowered, individualized experiences, and leaders must embrace that it has no boundaries or titles. By nature, digital technology is diverse and inclusive and, when nurtured, can give leaders endless opportunities to harness innovation, solve problems, share knowledge and learn from others.
- Think beyond reality. Human workers are being replaced by a digital workforce with the unstoppable development of artificial intelligence. We’re not only talking about physical robots and self-driving cars; we’re talking about software agents that carry out repeatable routine activities with increasing cognitive ability as they “learn” by doing. Gartner predicts that by 2018, more than three million of us will have a robo-boss and 20% of articles like this will be written by a machine – take a look at Gartner’s top ten trends for 2017.
- Hang on to your values. As we’ve seen, the spectrum of emotions, experiences and behaviors driven by digital are vast, and no one is immune to its influence. Our personal values can be easily corrupted if we are not careful in protecting them, so in the wake of all that noise, leaders – and everyone – must remember what and who is truly important, set boundaries and act accordingly.
Many will not make the journey. But those who do will find a transformative, hyper-connected world that is teeming with unimaginable opportunities. The new territory is unchartered and uncertain. But by diving in with courage, respect and care, digital technology can be the greatest gift we give to our global community.