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Technology is disrupting old lines of leadership

· Digital,Leadership,Strategy,Management,Governance

Technology is accelerating the pace of business innovation on an unprecedented scale. The expansive rise of technology’s role in society is one of several forces redefining, or perhaps recasting, the value of business.

In my conversations with senior leaders, many believe technology no longer simply enables the organisation to better operate. Instead it has become a driving force to creating strategic opportunities outside the traditional business boundaries. To put it another way, technology innovation today is a lever for instituting significant business change.

The consumer is fuelling this technology innovation like never before. The result is a reshaping of the consumer-to-business landscape. Products and gadgets are out, replaced by customer loyalty and social value. It’s a mega trend not only redefining the competitive landscape, it is also drawing into question existing internal business structures.

Traditional business boundaries are largely founded on command and control management structures; those vertical decision-making hierarchies where decisions flow up, not across. These structures are coming under increasing stress as new technology ‘areas of interest’ force more cross-functional business activities.

What are these? We read about them nearly everyday. They are the terms labelled as business agility, digital, data analytics, information security, customer experiences and procurement to name a few. Each one of these is not confined to a traditional command and control business silo.

However, there is a major obstacle. Achieving cross-functional business value in the land of command and control can only be achieved through greater awareness, collaboration and living a set of ascribed organisational values. Delivering upon these requires a re-evaluation of management styles and approaches to leadership.

One place to look to is the number of new C-level management roles being written about and discussed. For example the traditional Chief Information Officer, or CIO, now must compete with newly minted roles such as Chief Technology Officer, Chief Digital Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Customer Officer and the Chief Business Technology Officer. I cannot remember a time where there has been more talk and experimentation of new C-level roles during my quarter century as an able-bodied worker.

Adding more to the confusion, each one of these roles is defined differently to each organisation. How to make sense of this madness? There is no clear-cut set of C-level creation instructions. We are working in a highly disruptive business environment as part of this new consumer-led technology frontier. Again new approaches to leadership style and delivery can provide a pathway.

The C-level role confusion signals two truisms down that pathway. One truism acknowledges a massive digital transformation across all industries is well underway, and some businesses are further into their consumer transformation journey than others.

The second truism is the war for talent continues to intensify. Finding talented people who can fill these new C-level roles, and help guide the organisation in making that transition successful, will be an imperative in the years to come. It’s no longer just a case of what I accomplished as a leader, but a case of how I did it.

These C-level adaptations and permutations are not isolated to the inner management circle. There are a number of new mid-level management roles that have emerged to include agile coaches, scrum masters, change managers and Cloud brokers.

All these roles have a common thread; each one delivers cross-functional value. In essence these roles are new attempts at finding better ways of engaging between various business groups. The same business groups who all desire greater say and involvement in technology investment decisions. And the same business groups who are also being asked by their customers to provide better and innovative technology value.

It all makes for very interesting and testing times for today’s leadership.

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