Girl With Makeshift Wings Trying to Fly

Last week, we looked at 3 skills future leaders will need to steer their companies in the right direction. The article mainly revolved around what we call "soft-skills" today, even though they are becoming just as, if not even more important that, say, performing magic tricks with Excel. Still, digitisation is all around us and will dominate every aspect of our economy in the future. So today let us focus a bit more on the skills that are connected to working with our new tools. Because these are not "just" for the common Marketing Manager or IT-worker. Companies will *need* leaders to be able to understand what is happening in a smart and connected world.

1. Future Skill: (New) Media Literacy

Looking at how businesses become more connected and more international by the minute, this is a big one. It is essential for leading even a smaller company. However, in some countries there is still a very visible (often generational) gap when it comes to understanding and using social media and collaboration tools. Especially the younger generations use these forms of communication all the time, be that in private or at work. This means that leaders *need* to be able to understand as well as to implement them into their processes. (Instead of banning them from the workplace!)

There are three main reasons for this.

  • First, illiteracy renders leaders unable to effectively communicate within their own business. This can also pose a problem for their reputation within the workforce.
  • Second, social media and content marketing are now the most effective tools to engage with our customers. Using data and algorithms they make it also possible to use extremely precise targeting tools when it comes to displaying ads. Many business executives who don't understand this are quick to dismiss these possibilities, although they will become more and more important over time.
  • Third, being able to create compelling content is a valuable tool for leaders to act as a public figurehead for their company. Mind, it doesn't need to be rocket science, just writing a blog can be enough to effectively display the innovative spirit or corporate social responsibility of a company. After all, people will always prefer to follow a person on Twitter over a company account, and we all value the personal opinions of important people more than well-crafted marketing messages.

Fortunately, becoming media literate is one of the easier things to do. It's just about starting that Twitter account and lurking for a while to become familiar with the networks etiquette. Same goes for virtually every single one of these networks or tools.

2. Future Skill: Data Literacy

Most business leaders agree that data-driven businesses will be more successful in the future. Of course, when we are talking data, we are talking Big Data. And this represents and equally big challenge.

When it comes to Big Data, we are talking about numbers no human can work with any longer. Data flows through everything and today we can measure anything because everything is digitally connected in some way or another. Data flows through markets, through supply chains, through the workforce, through customer relations, through marketing. But since we are no longer talking about quantities of gigabytes or terabytes, but instead petabytes and exabytes. (An exabyteis essentially of the size of one billion gigabytes!) Hence, it takes more than working spreadsheets or statistical programmes to make sense of this sheer amount of information. We need algorithms, artificial intelligence and powerful processors for that.

This doesn't mean that every leader has to become a data scientist. But they definitely should have a certain base knowledge of how data is being worked with. Because in the end, they need to be the ones who decided whether to trust it or not, and they will be the persons making decisions based upon it.

Leaders need

  • to have a general idea of how data is being gathered.
  • to have a concept of how artificial intelligence works with data and self-optimises using it.
  • to be able to read graphical representations of data with both of the aforementioned bullet points in mind.

3. Future Skill: Being a Visionary (or at Least Empowering the Visions of Others)

The digital age brings major change to organisations. For the first time in history, we actually realise that they aren't a hierarchical pyramid, even though we try to construct them as one. Instead, they are a network. A network of people communicating with each other, of supplies and tools and facilities interacting. There is power in these networks that we can harvest, especially now that the networks' structure becomes visible. Within every organisation there are many people with bright ideas of how to do a better job or make their job easier, of how to create a better product or even a completely new one. Companies that use this to their advantage stay innovative and competitive.

Innovation is mainly a question of corporate culture, and an innovative corporate culture is mainly a question of leadership. Of course, when we think about successful companies of today (many American tech companies come to mind) we can name some extremely visionary CEOs at the helm of them, who imbue them with an innovative spirit that is hard to copy. Does that mean everybody has to be a visionary now? Hardly. But these people understand that in order to be innovative, a company has to empower its workforce to try for innovation. That means to communicate a corporate vision and to create working conditions that allow for trial and error, for success, but also for many failures. Companies today need a mind-set that doesn't punish failures, but celebrates them as part of the process. Because innovation isn't about the 9 spectacular failures we suffer on the road to success, but instead it is about that one even more spectacular success. Especially in older industries that are being disrupted as we write this, it is high time for leaders to adopt this new outlook towards their organisations and innovation processes.

Images: Sunny studio, ra2 studio, lucadp, alphaspirit | de.fotolia.com

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