Keeping up with the times: Is your leadership modern enough?

Anyone who works in a business leadership capacity knows that the corporate landscape is forever in a state of flux, with change the only constant in an unpredictable environment. The implication of this, of course, is that leadership skills and attributes are evolving in tandem.

Never has the impact of continuous business change been as pronounced as it is today. With the relentless rise of technology, new markets and shifting consumer preferences, the only companies that survive are those that can keep up with the times.

Some of the leadership traits that were relevant only a few years ago are now considered outdated by many – and there is always a new batch of skills for the modern leader to learn. What are the key qualities that today’s managers need to master in order to stay ahead?

Be a tech guru

Technology has long been one of the biggest priorities for business leaders, and the latest indications are that this trend is only set to grow in the future.

Whether it’s to streamline internal processes or to enhance consumer-facing interactions, there is rarely a space within your organisation that can’t be improved through technology. In 2014, we looked at some of the top business technology trends, which highlighted, for instance, the increasingly mobile nature of commerce and what this means for businesses and consumers.

Already a vital area to invest in for companies, mobile will only grow in dominance. In this article, CNET analysed data from US Census Bureau and GSMA Intelligence to demonstrate that there are now more active mobile devices than human beings on Earth – and their growth rate also exceeds that of our population.

There are no two ways about it – technology is touching more and more aspects of our personal and business lives and your success as a leader is likely to hinge on how well you can leverage this change.

Think data, think big

In addition to mobile, one of the technology trends that is revolutionising business processes the most is big data.

Companies are now dealing with quantities of data that were once thought unimaginable. Correctly and efficiently tapping into this information to extract meaningful insights is, and will continue to be, of utmost importance for any business.

One of the areas in which companies are deriving the most value out of big data analysis is customer relationship management (CRM). The savviest businesses are using the latest software and tools to crunch customer data and enhance individual relationships with them. It’s no surprise, then, that research firm MarketsandMarkets predicts the global CRM market to grow at 36.5 per cent between 2013 and 2018, reaching a value of US$24.22 billion (AUD$27.8 billion).

In addition, technology research group Gartner announced that advanced analytics, fuelled by big data, will be “a top business priority”.

“Rather than being the domain of a few select groups (for example, marketing, risk), many more business functions now have a legitimate interest in this capability to help foster better decision making and improved business outcomes,” explained Alexander Linden, research director at Gartner.

Harness the power of people

Despite the growing attention being placed on technology, it is still crucial for the modern leader to appreciate the human aspect of their business.

Engaging your employees and showing you value them by offering advancement and development opportunities is an area of increasing focus. This is true regardless of the industry in which you operate, no matter how “techy” or not it is.

For example, a survey by recruitment firm Robert Half polled technology professionals and asked them what frustrates them most at work. The most common response, with nearly half (45 per cent) of votes, was the lack of opportunities for advancement.

An additional study by the same company surveyed a range of CFOs and employees on the factors that cause the best employees to leave an organisation. Both pools of respondents were remarkably similar in their answers, with the second most cited reason being “limited opportunities for advancement” (22 per cent for CFOs and 20 per cent for employees). The first-placed factor was salary and benefits.

In the context of a digital business environment, it is essential you do not neglect the potential of your people, and give them the opportunities to grow and flourish within your organisation.

Be a student

Don’t limit professional development to just your employees, however. The best leaders are those who seek opportunities to personally learn and develop for the benefit of their business, and in an increasingly networked world, executive coaching is a great option.

Business leaders can benefit immensely from an executive development program, working with someone in a coaching or mentoring capacity. Often, the best way to learn in business is working closely with someone who has ‘been there and done that’, and using them as a sounding board.

According to Grant Thornton’s International Business Report, 40 per cent of business leaders in the Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) region said they have used a business coach – this was one of the highest proportions around the world. In order to keep up with the times, it may be worthwhile investing in a relationship with an erudite business mentor.

Look global

In an earlier blog post we looked at the importance of globalisation, especially with a focus on Asia – and the need to take a worldwide view to business is not likely to change.

Additionally, the October 2014 Technology Leaders Forecast Survey from DLA Piper found that two-thirds (67 per cent) of technology business leaders believe China will be “a source of major technology innovation in the next five to 10 years”. Given its proximity to the region, Australian businesses are well placed to tap into Asian markets, and the onus will be on business leaders to instigate this investment.

The business world is always changing – but by knowing which skills and qualities you need to master today, you can ensure you and your business are ahead of the curve.