Who are the leaders of today …tomorrow?  … Are they Digital Pioneers?

Leadership is a courageous journey to disrupt the old, amplify the new, and propel the global community forward. “To grasp the digital opportunity… enterprises need to “flip” from old to new in terms of information and technology leadership, value leadership and people leadership”

Yet a recent Harvard study noted that only 19% of global CEO’s describe themselves as strong in digital leadership and management.

Our Globe is being disrupted daily by new technologies, hyper-connected networks, and the culture of the connected mindset (Gen Z, Y, X or Baby Boomers). Consumers demand to be listened to, engaged with and involved in the products they buy, the education they receive; the politics that governs them, and the world that they’re inheriting. At the same time, Boards have conflicting agendas; there is a “sustainability divide between executives and investors”. Some Boards demand their executives generate short-term results with unrealistic growth targets, thus limiting their resources for sustainable digital opportunities. While other Boards and 75% of investors encourage their leadership to invest resources in innovative projects that address local and global challenges.

Many leaders live this disparity and conflict. Yes, many are true pioneers discovering unprecedented opportunities in the new connected world, as those that explored the New World some 500+ years ago. And Yes many shareholders are forcing executives to meet narrowly defined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that do not support the risk and innovation required for success in the Networked Economy that generates sustainable outcomes.

Then how are these executives and managers being prepared for their roles as Digital Pioneers when more that 75% of CEOs state that they are not fully confident that their organization has the skills to execute a digital strategy?

Or when 90% of executives see sustainability as important, but only 60% have a sustainability strategy in place and 25% have a sustainability business case?

Clearly there is no choice …Priorities must change.  We need to educate and make Boards aware of the realities of Digital Darwinism and the exponential impact of the hyper-connected Network Economy and sustainability on their business models and future success.

The Digital Pioneers require training to become World Class Digital Leaders. They must be prepared to be disruptive leaders discovering, building and creating new formats to participate, innovate and sustain enterprises in the new global business landscape. They must understand, cope with and manage the velocity of change to insure the transformation is smooth.

Our Digital Pioneers share the same entrepreneurial qualities as the explorers: being courageous, risk-taking, thinking-out-of-the-box, motivating their teams and soliciting visionary investors. These explorers faced new cultures with vast resources. In the past they wanted to conquer and exploit these new resources. The current Pioneers are challenged to scale global networks and information that generate sustainable impacts for all stakeholders.

But they require a different interdisciplinary skill-set, as Digital Pioneers have the responsibility for designing and launching new enterprises which are values-driven and people-centered with democratized decision making structures. Their efforts are the current metaphor for the founding of the United States which democratized the rights of citizens from diverse backgrounds and ended control by monarchies and old ways of thinking.

As Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, suggested “When you change the way you see the world, you change the world you see.” This training must transform the mindset and stimulate efforts of Digital Pioneers to initiate and sustain change:

  1. Millennials are the young pioneers that will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025. They want to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills, and make a positive contribution to society. But most students state they are graduating ill-prepared for the responsibilities and job opportunities presented by the Networked Economy. Executives surveyed by the Economist agree; more than 65% are dissatisfied with the skills of young people entering the workplace. Some 1.5 million digital managers are needed in the US and UK alone by 2018 with skills in customer experience and analytics. Europe requires up to 200,000 e-leaders by 2020, but their educational institutions aren’t prepared to fill this void. There is an urgent Europe-wide effort to scale up e-leadership skills across all industrial sectors and enterprises.

The challenge is that that Millennials need skill training in ICT (information           communication technology), digital marketing, and analytics as well as                 leadership development in creativity, team building, and innovation.  They         need to be guided to think strategically as entrepreneurs and be prepared           to collaborate with Baby Boomers to help transform traditional companies           into sustainable Digitally Integrated Organizations.

2. Startup Pioneers create completely new social or for-profit businesses              addressing gaps in the marketplace. These young entrepreneurs create              new companies and grow them organically with the values of their                        generation. They need to be given the skills to create sustainable ventures          by scaling information and new technologies. In addition, they need to be            mentored by visionary business people helping them to accelerate these            ventures by leveraging distribution across regional and global networks.

On the other hand, existing companies facing digital transformation must incorporate an intrapreneurship approach that can take two routes with varied velocities of change — the quantum exponential or the sequential transformational.

 3. Exponential Pioneers realize the vast opportunities in the digital landscape and choose lean methodologies and dynamic organizational structures to grow a new exponential organization rapidly and sustainably. An Exponential Organization (ExO) is one whose impact (or output) is disproportionally large— at least 10x larger— compared to its peers because of the use of new organizational techniques that leverage accelerating technologies.” They need to begin with a Transformational WHY- a values-driven mission that permeates the company culture and operations. It must be augmented by technologies and organizational behavior skills to create agile ventures driven by rapid innovation.

4. Transformational Pioneers guide and direct existing businesses through the sequential stages of building a new people-driven corporate culture that evolves into Digital Integrated Organization. They need to build a consumer experience that reinforces company values and is based on data-driven decision making. As Mark Henley Director, Strategy and Digital Transformation, Adobe suggested “Great customer experience that doesn’t affect ROI is pointless.”

The need and mandate is crystal clear. We need to rapidly create World Class Leadership Training institutions for executives, managers, entrepreneurs and young professionals. The comprehensive trainings must be values-based and inspiring–integrating new technologies, lean methodologies, digital literacy, marketing, sustainability, leadership and creativity to create continuous innovation and incorporating interactive, participant- centered experiential formats across whole ecosystems of suppliers and collaborators. Yes, it’s a tall order, but it’s what’s needed!

As change starts with creating value, the crucial connector and differentiator in the trainings is the Transformational WHY; it is built into the total customer experience and throughout the fabric of the enterprise. Digital Pioneers must continuously innovate to create value for consumers, employees, partners, investors and their communities or live the Quadruple Bottom-Line (People, Planet, Profit and Prosperity (community)!

Our sustainable future is dependent on developing World Class Digital Leaders. Our challenge is to prepare them for their responsibilities!


Ira Kaufman PhD is a Digital Transformation Strategist, CEO, Social Entrepreneur and Educator. His company, Entwine Digital, has been working with midsize and multinationals to train World Class Digital Leaders. His team is collaborating with Lynchburg College School of Business and Economics (ranked #4 for North American programs in Leadership Development) and Legacy International (NGO specializing in training future leaders) to design an World Class Leadership Institute to provide training for executives, managers and young professionals in the Networked Economy.