Developing the Persona To Lead In the Digital Age
The persona of a successful digital leader is not inherent and therefore, the persona is unique to the individual's environment or circumstance
Embracing the persona of a successful leader means understanding digital transformation begins with personal transformation. While this is the most critical takeaway from my book, Crossing the Digital Faultline, it is, of course, easier said than done. So, before taking a closer look at the persona of a successful leader, let’s first look at what a persona is.
The Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, described a persona as a “mask or facade presented to satisfy the demands of the situation or the environment and not representing the inner personality of the individual.” Jung points out that such behaviors are often a mask to get through life, whereas the inner identity may be quite different.
In the same vein, the persona of a successful digital leader is not inherent and therefore, the persona is unique to the individual’s environment or circumstance. In other words, different settings or situations require a unique persona that best fits into their leadership objectives.
Cultivating a Persona of Authenticity
While I have encountered many born leaders in the military and during my time as CEO at Trianz, there is one persona that stands out. It is a persona that I have come across in my research on “Digital Champions” — the 7% of companies that manage to successfully transform — and my reason for writing this book. That persona is what I have dubbed the “Methodical Innovator.”
The Methodical Innovator is a persona that embraces a game of calm and composed intelligence and smarts. It is not one of grandiose vision, bravado, soul-stirring speeches, or frittering away capital without proper prioritization or forethought.
Given their focus on outcomes, the Methodical Innovator is not emotional or attached to the past. They are willing to let go of prior business models and processes if the analytics support doing so. They visualize transformations in terms of quantifiable value and measurable outcomes for stakeholders.
At the same time, they underscore the urgency of getting things done since they are aware time is not on their side. As demanding as they are, they also realize that success is all about aligning and nurturing talent. Thus, they are authentically people-oriented and invest heavily in preparing their talent.
The No Ego Approach
The English psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, introduced the idea of the persona as a “false self” — or a kind of mask of behavior that complies with others' expectations. This false self occurs when the persona penetrates someone's entire being and creates the need to be all things to all people. Thus, pleasing others becomes paramount, and the person lives an inauthentic life according to the will of others.
Alternatively, at the very core of a Methodical Innovator’s character is inherent honesty. When what they do not know draws on them, the idea of saying, “I don’t know,” does not stigmatize them.
While in the corporate world, many egos are too proud to appear ignorant, the Methodical Innovator simply pivots, building an expert team to quickly solve whatever problem may arise.
Being an authentic leader comes from being able to successfully balance the persona and true self. Transitioning away from the false self and becoming authentic requires a continuous effort to be the most genuine aspect of ourselves — or, as Shakespeare put it, “above all, to thine own self be true.”
The Value in Saying “I Don’t Know”
In an environment of unknown forces, dynamics, pace, and outcomes, a Methodical Innovator realizes the importance of knowing what they do not know. In acknowledging what they do not know, they begin the process of personal transformation.
As a leader, if you acknowledge that you do not know or have all the necessary facts, you are being honest not only with yourself but with your team. This will, in turn, help others to lead by example and build a culture that relies on facts rather than feelings.
Such a culture can be built by emphasizing honesty as a core value. Building such a culture removes the equation of emotions and fears and drives teams into action.
Becoming the Methodical Innovator
The persona of the Methodical Innovator is not built upon a larger-than-life, naturally gifted, and versatile leader. They painstakingly understand and learn everything there is to personal and digital transformation. They tailor, practice, and master their leadership persona, while always adapting and changing in the face of uncertainty.
This is how leaders in the digital age are made. Anyone with the will to succeed and the tenacity to lay a foundation and adopt this persona can become a Methodical Innovator.
To learn more about the concept of the Methodical Innovator, and how ensuring your leadership style embodies the qualities to successfully execute a digital transformation initiative, I hope you will check out Crossing the Digital Faultline.