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Digital Leadership

Leadership in times of digital disruption

Text by Dr. Daniel Fasnacht, Program Director

Digital transformation is not just about technology, it is more about a mindset driven by business strategy. Leaders who understand trends holistically can successfully steer their organizations into the digital paradigm and motivate teams who develop data-driven digital solutions aligned with experience-driven customer journeys. When people spend more and more time in the virtual world than in the real world, emotions take on an important meaning. Human-centered leadership creates trust, increases satisfaction and productivity.

Recognizing digital disruptions with strategic early detection

A crucial aspect of managing trends is strategic early detection. Instead of focusing only on the present, thinking in scenarios can better extrapolate the needs, impacts, and strategies for the future. By imagining which technologies have which impact on the economy and society, leaders can take proactive steps to prepare the organization for change and seize opportunities. After all, not all digital innovations are disruptive – many things simply improve the status quo and do not have to turn the entire organization upside down.

"Strategic early identification helps to systematically address the impact of industry and technology convergence."

Disruptions require a rethink and an adaptation of the corporate culture. It's about fostering a willingness to innovate, establish agile working methods, and encourage employees to continuously develop new skills. Through an open and collaborative corporate culture, ideas can be exchanged, innovations can be driven and digital solutions can be developed that displace (disrupt) traditional business models over time.

Emotional intelligence in leadership

In a world of digital disruption where artificial intelligence is becoming more and more present, emotional intelligence is a key to success. As technologies take over more and more tasks, recognizing and understanding emotions remains a skill that only humans possess. Therefore, emotional intelligence should have a high priority in the corporate culture.

Professor Jochen Menges researches emotional intelligence at the Center for Leadership in the Future of Work at the University of Zurich. According to this, emotional intelligence means that leaders are able to incorporate emotions into their thinking. This includes the ability to properly recognize and regulate both one's own emotions and the emotions of others. The right emotions can serve as motivation and drive companies forward, but this aspect is often underestimated. Emotions are closely linked to our performance and should be recognized as such.

Various research findings indicate that emotional intelligence can be learned. Unlike cognitive abilities, which are largely innate, emotional intelligence can be developed in a targeted manner. Managers should therefore invest in the development of their emotional intelligence. Employees who don't have a way to express their emotions at work tend to develop negative emotions, which has a destructive effect on their performance and health. Instead, work environments should be created in which employees have the freedom to experience the desired emotions in the workplace.

There are a variety of emotions that people want to feel in the workplace, and it is important to create a culture that allows and encourages all of these emotions. The University of Zurich, together with Adecco and the Boston Consulting Group, showed in a global study last year that creating an emotionally supportive environment has a positive impact on employee satisfaction, motivation and productivity. Managers should be able to create a climate of trust and openness in which employees can express their emotions freely.

"Leadership in times of digital disruption requires more emotional intelligence."

In addition, the development of emotional intelligence should not be limited to leaders but should be encouraged throughout the organization. Through training, workshops and the exchange of best practices, employees can learn to recognize and regulate their own emotions and develop empathy and emotional understanding for their colleagues.

The future of work

Digitalization, generative artificial intelligence, but also business software solutions are necessary steps to initiate disruptive innovations or to optimize operational efficiency and thus remain competitive. The Leadership Day of the "SAP NOW" conference at the Zurich Congress Center on April 25, 2023 made it clear that in an increasingly digitalized world, the combination of human and technological skills is more important than ever. The future of work needs digital leaders who foster a culture of emotional intelligence and open communication.

More information

The Center for Leadership in the Future of Work and the Executive Education at the University of Zurich promote the aspects of digital disruption mentioned in the article in diploma and compact courses and company-specific continuing education programs.

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Daniel Fasnacht

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