Guiding the Next Generation Of Leaders Through Digital Transformation

To be the leaders we need for the future, our top people must have three critical skills: the ability to show empathy, to embrace the diversity of voice and thought, and to maintain an agile mindset.

If they did not before, everyone now knows what uncertainty feels like. As businesses continue to navigate through Covid-19, it has become increasingly clear that the way we work has been redefined—and digitally transformed for the future.

One thing is for certain: Current and future generations of leaders must be nimble and adapt accordingly to accelerate change, and lead their companies through disruption—all while remaining competitive.

Greater flexibility, adaptability and resiliency are needed in the “next normal.”

Transforming Beyond Covid

Global supply chain disruptions have catapulted leaders into embracing digital transformation strategies. They have seen firsthand what successful digitization can bring to the enterprise, and have begun integrating technologies to address an increased need for mobility, remote connectivity and collaboration.

The takeaway: Knowing when to pivot as an organization, and with speed, will help companies stay ahead of future disruptions and navigate challenges with ease. This vision is what the next generation of leaders can bring to the table—many of them have lived through this digital acceleration and are more digitally native than their predecessors.

For example, as an organization, we pivoted in the early weeks of the Covid-19 crisis to provide better support for our employees and customers, striving for speed and responsiveness around their everyday job and priorities, helping them implement technology-based solutions and practices that are vital for business continuity and growth. Relying on mobile technologies, many industries pivoted successfully. For example, the foodservice industry leveraged mobile ordering, food lockers, contactless payment and other newer technologies to continue meeting consumer demand.

Collaboration is also critical and embracing it will serve leadership well as we look to remove organizational silos and include all stakeholders from different departments as a part of the digital transformation journey.

Being based in Chicago with our North America headquarters in New Jersey and corporate headquarters in Japan—and having worked with Panasonic employees across the globe—has allowed me to see firsthand how collaboration promotes problem-solving, and ultimately helps our employees work smarter and more productively. It also ensures the company mission is integrated effectively and deters disruptions to the company culture.

Leadership Qualities for the Next Generation of Leaders

The distributed workforce in some form or fashion is here to stay, making it increasingly important for business leaders to remain connected to their people in new and innovative ways. In a digitally-disrupted world where company events, onsite meetings and direct in-person touchpoints are not guaranteed, how do leaders continue to lead while supporting business continuity?

The answer lies in three critical leadership skills: showing empathy, embracing the diversity of voice and thought, and maintaining an agile mindset.

The ability to recognize emotions in others by showing empathy, and to embrace other people’s perspectives, is a critical leadership skill.

I learned the value of empathy at the beginning of my career. Shortly after I started my MBA, my wife had to temporarily move to pursue her three-year medical residency program elsewhere. We had to juggle everyday work with family commitments, training, and homework. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end. Having to strike a balance between competing priorities helped me gain a strong sense of the value of empathy. Many of the people we work with have a lot going on behind the scenes; seeing things from their point of view and fostering an open and healthy dialogue can engage the hearts and minds of team members to uncover unique solutions that exceed expectations.

Empathy not only helps build strong internal teams, it enables companies to better understand the people they are trying to reach and realize the needs of their customers. It also allows leaders to predict the impact their decisions and actions will have on their core audiences and strategize accordingly.

Strong leaders also understand that having a range of perspectives, cultures and backgrounds all evaluating the same problem and coming up with different solutions, is the backbone of innovation. This goes back to my earlier point about how successful digital transformation only happens when silos do not exist.

From IT, sales and product development to factory workers, supply chain and customer service, varying perspectives help leaders gain a full grasp of the challenges that already exist or may arise. This will enable leaders to analyze feedback, build out a proper solution, and help the company work against its goals—whether that’s launching a new product, deploying new technology, reaching a wider set of prospects or customers, and more.

When undergoing disruptions or faced with market shifts and changes, strong leaders are never rigid. Instead, they embrace flexibility and adaptability—our approach to embrace a hybrid workforce and allow employees to work anywhere is a great example.

When working remotely, it can be more challenging than usual for employees to power down—both physically and mentally—but it’s imperative to avoid burnout. One way to encourage employees to do so is to lead by example, being open about how you’re incorporating flexibility into your own schedule and taking time away from work. This requires strong, continuous conversation across teams to put it into practice.

Strong leaders also eliminate gaps in their companies’ operations by aligning internal structures to support external goals. Digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight— leaders who embrace an agile mindset can make changes to business strategies as they embark on the journey, building a resilient enterprise that’s ready to respond to challenges and solve customer pain points.

When it comes to company culture, organizations that put people first get ahead. They attract the best talent, and as a result, their business flourishes. As Richard Branson says, “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.” Simply put, the key to engaging your customers is to engage your workforce.

Strong leadership is rooted in service and authenticity, not in power and authority. The next generation of leaders will knit people closer to accomplish something extraordinary together.