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Why Business Leaders Must Get Digital

By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

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As digital technologies transform businesses, leaders must keep pace by mastering new tools for communicating with customers and colleagues. “This transformation is not optional. Those who choose not to make this change will be abandoned for those who inspire people to follow them.” That, according to the book cover, is the thesis of Charlene Li, Founder and CEO of Altimeter Group and author of, “The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Your Digital Transformation.”

Li defines an engaged digital leader as “someone who uses digital, mobile, and social tools strategically to achieve established goals as they related to leading people and managing organizations.” She argues that being a true digital leader requires “a tranformation in how you think,how you work, and the types of relationships you are comfortable cultivating.” She says you must connect directly by listening, sharing, and engaging using digital technologies. In fact, those three steps—listen, share, engage—are the basis for a framework she proposes as a template for leaders undergoing digital transformation.

The book addresses how leaders can master a new way of developing relationships, beginning with stepping out of traditional hierarchies. Why should they? “In order to be truly effective today, leaders in business and society must change how they engage, and in particular how they establish and maintain relationships with their followers via digital channels. While looking at someone in the eye and shaking hands with customers and employees will never lost their value, they are no longer enough to sustain relationships in a fast-moving digital world.”

Li says making the shift demands unprecedented openness, trust, and transparency of “top leaders who are accustomed to maintaining control and proceeding in an orderly and predictable fashion.” Li tells leaders: “If your palms aren’t sweaty and your stomach isn’t churning, then you probably aren’t practicing engaged leadership.”

“The Engaged Leader” teaches readers how to “listen at scale,” “share to shape,” and “engage to transform.” With examples of leaders across industries who are mastering the transformation—including IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, Edelman CEO Richard Edelman, and Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior—Li describes the art of making the transformative mind shift and the science of applying the right tools to meet your strategic goals.

For any business leader whose digital strategy has been to rely on the digital natives on the team to lead the way, Li points out that “digital technologies have decoupled power and influence from title and pay grade.” If you’re late to the digital party, Li urges you to hurry up and join.  

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