Change. The one constant in technology. As companies embrace the promises of the digital era, we are again faced with change. There are new technologies to learn and understand, there are new forms of business to explore. There are new leadership skills to master. If our organizations are to take advantage of this new reality we must also…remember the past.
About 100 George Santayana penned is oft repeated and very much misquoted line, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Familiar, right? Let’s take a moment and look at his quote in context:
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Interesting. Nowhere does he say, “if you don’t remember the past, history will repeat itself.” In fact, implied is the fact that history does repeat itself. If we are to make progress, we must understand the lessons from the past and use those lessons to propel us forward. Yes, there are some new leadership skills needed to to succeed in the digital era, skills, such as, influence, coaching, mentoring and emotional self-awareness, as well as, having a customer perspective, an enterprise perspective and cross-functional perspective. However, there are some skills that stand the test of time and are even more important in the Digital Era.
In my micro-book, “Everything I Learned about Leadership…I Learned from Lewis and Clark”, I explore ten traits of a leader. Using the backdrop of Captain Meriwether Lewis’ and Captain William Clark’s cross continental exploration of the North American wilderness, I hold up the traits of transparency, honesty and truthfulness, accountability, patience, seeking input, commitment, integrity and character, admitting mistakes, flexibility and risk taking.
During the three year odyssey, the Captains and some of the men wrote journals and kept extensive records of the daily discoveries. It is through these words (over a million, in 13 volumes), that the lessons of leadership come to us in business today. For example, In the digital era, where information must flow throughout an organization, creating an environment of transparency is the only way you as a leader will be able to keep your finger on the pulse of progress.
Which of these traits are the most important in the digital era? I would be hard pressed to rank them. I believe they are foundational to leadership in any era, removing any one of them will compromise the stability of our leadership. The speed of change we are faced with today will require these traits to be even stronger to serve as our bedrock as we confront challenges to our business.
Let me offer up some brief thoughts on each trait. I encourage you to read the book and contemplate the challenges you are facing in the digital era and how you might address them in light of the lessons in leadership from 200 years ago.
- Transparency – The flow of information in the digital era creates a tsunami of information…and misinformation. Creating a culture of transparency throughout the organization will separate the signal from the noise.
- Honesty and Truthfulness – In the “fail-fast” mode of the digital era, being honest and truthful with those around you and yourself, will help you know when to push ahead with an idea and when to put it aside.
- Accountability – The flatter organizations of the digital era will make holding individuals accountable even more difficult. Mastering this skill will foster collaboration and enable teams to excel.
- Patience – Technology is changing at an exponential rate. Sometimes this creates impatience in a leader. Impatient for the next release, impatient for the results, impatient for ourselves and our teams to learn new skills. The digital era is exciting…but it will test our patience.
- Seeking Input – Leaders in the digital era will not be able to absorb all of the information available to them (here’s a revelation…we never could). We will need to rely even more on those around us. Their opinions and insights will help drive our companies forward.
Commitment – Transformation is hard work. Transformation is change on steroids. We must face the challenges head-on if we are to succeed in transforming our businesses in the digital era.
- Integrity and Character – It kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it?
- Admitting mistakes – The collaborative environment necessary in the digital era requires a leader to be vulnerable, to admit when mistakes are made and to admit to not having all the answers.
- Flexibility – Not every idea we try will work. As leaders, we will need to be flexible. We must be able to change plans when they are not producing results. The digital era will challenge many of our perceptions of our business and ourselves. We must be flexible and open to new perceptions.
- Taking Risks – I won’t say this is the most important trait in the Digital Era; but, transforming your organization to thrive in the digital era is a risk in and of itself. Take the risk! Don’t leave valuable discoveries behind.
As you read “Everything I Learned about Leadership…I Learned from Lewis and Clark”, think about your skills. Which ones will you need to build upon? Which ones will help you guide your business through the wilderness of transformation. I invite you to bookmark this post. After you have read the book, return here and leave your thoughts. I would love to hear what resonates.
About the Author:
Jeff is the author of Amplify Your Value – Leading IT with Strategic Vision (2018) and Amplify Your Job Search – Strategies for Finding Your Dream Job (2020).
He is a sought-after speaker, author and thought leader, having led powerful teams and built successful Information Technology departments for over 30 years. Jeff’s mission is to change the face of IT, saying, “Businesses today are demanding more from their technology and their technology leaders.”
He serves on numerous boards and advisory councils including Forbes Technology Council, Indy CIO Network, and Connected World Magazine Board of Advisors. He is a fellow with the Institute of Digital Transformation.
Meet Jeff and learn more at www.JeffreySTon.com.