All posts by Alice Sidhu

Three Key Mindset Shifts To Lead In The Digital Age

The wonder of digital is the array of choice and opportunity it brings. To drive a successful digital agenda and succeed in the digital age however, mindsets need to build on leadership fundamentals while also shifting to respond to the new environment.

By Brian Lasenby / Shutterstock

Digital, the awe and the promise, filling us with inspiration and fear at the same time. Initially, the digital discussion was all about technology. After all, technology is cool, and we all want the cool factor. It demonstrates that we are at the forefront, leading the way, innovating. All great things when organisations and individuals are in a highly competitive environment and looking for a point of differentiation.

The wonder of digital is the array of choice and opportunity it brings. RPA? A great place to start. Mobility? It’s all about anytime, anywhere. AI? Not quite sure what it means, but let’s go with it anyway.

As many organisations sought to implement technology and transform themselves, the promised utopia did not quite eventuate. Technology moves fast and the innovation of today is tomorrow’s nostalgia (Any 80’s movie featuring a brick cleverly masquerading as a mobile phone will make this point all too well for those of us who were there to remember it the first time). That’s because digital requires a reinvention in how an organisation operates from business models, to systems and processes, through to engaging with the market and customers. It turns out that without a mindset and cultural shift, the full benefits of the technology are never realised or sustained. And so, for leaders this poses an interesting question. What does leadership look like in this digital age?

There is a multitude of research, writing and discussions on leadership in general. It is no surprise therefore that the conversation around digital mindset is met with cynicism, or fatigue. Don’t throw out those books yet (unless you received a kindle for Christmas). The fundamentals of what we know to be great leadership endure; humility, curiosity, emotional intelligence among others are key call outs and are as relevant today as when they were first identified. To drive a successful digital agenda and succeed in the digital landscape however, mindsets need to build on leadership fundamentals while also shifting to respond to the new environment. So where can you start to make a shift like this?

1. Experiment and embrace learning, not failure

Everybody knows about this one. In the strive to be innovative, there is a focus on experimentation. Experimentation is a call out for me because it brings together a number of attributes that differentiate digital leaders; challenging the status quo, creativity in seeing something the rest of us do not, courage to advocate for it, curiosity and determination to pursue it.

Interestingly enough, this also requires what might be considered a high tolerance for risk (which is why I mentioned courage). The default position for many leaders and organisations is to say “no” in a variety of ways.  I am not sure how many times I have heard “that’s not been done before”, “that won’t work here” or “we tried it and it didn’t work”. And there were times when I listened, and others when I thought there was something worth pursuing and did, demonstrating probably more hope and naivety , than courage.

The real issue of risk in experimentation arises because we need to be comfortable with  failure. Failure here is not an aspiration, it is simply highly likely when trying something new or doing something for the first time, even if it has worked somewhere else. Failure is problematic because it makes us susceptible to self-doubt, and the critique of others. Both are tough. And the idea that we celebrate failure in the digital world is a confusing and honestly, a little ridiculous to many. So, let’s be clear, that with experimentation, it’s the learning that needs to be celebrated, not the failure. Gary Pisano makes this point clearly in his book “Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation”.  Try something new, take what worked, evolve it and get it right. Or work out whether it is even worth pursuing further, or call it quits and move on.

2. Understand skills, cultivate expertise

There is no shortage of dystopian views of the end of the human workforce as the result of automation and AI. If failure incites fear, there is no doubt that human redundancy as a result of technology amps up the anxiety level. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that workforce transitions due to automation will impact approximately 14 per cent of the world’s workforce, so the scale of the impact is significant. My first implementation of digital analytics was in 2011, long before we were even having the conversation so I have seen the potential and the limitations. Developing an executive dashboard of key business metrics including daily sales, was a great start to automating analytics and producing actionable insights. So much more would be possible today. I am optimistic about the future of humanity and the ability of the man + machine interchange.

There is no doubt that many tasks will be automated. Many routine ones in fact already have been. At the same time, demand for new skills is emerging. And these skills present an opportunity to generate value in ways that may not have been possible previously. Digital savvy leaders adopt a mindset that see this threat as an opportunity. They understand the impact for themselves, their teams and the organisation. Anticipating what is coming, they identify the skills and behaviours that are needed and develop them, positioning themselves at the forefront through different ways of learning. With so much being so new to so many, expertise and differentiation comes to those who are willing to learn, try, and apply. Equally important, they cultivate this mindset with their employees and enable them with the skills and attributes needed.

3. Operate within new models, divest old paradigms

Welcome to the new world of work. Expertise exists in unlikely places; traditional reporting structures don’t always work and teams operate with autonomy and accountability. It takes a distinct mindset shift to relinquish decision making and control. The more important the initiative, the greater the risk, the harder it becomes. Yet the digital world values and rewards expertise, speed and adaptability. That means setting the agenda and outcome, defining parameters and empowering the team with expertise to execute. It does not mean abdicating accountability for progress and delivery, nor does it mean micro-managing the team because things aren’t being done as you would do them.

For many leaders, the paradigm shift to new models of leadership is challenging. The results however are inspiring. When I was tasked with working on the National Emergency Warning Project with the amazing Joe Buffone who was leading the Government’s Emergency Services response, we both knew that we needed to assemble an A-team, give them guidance and clear direction, and then let them do their thing while we did ours. The result? A first-of-a-kind initiative, with media attention, up and running (and more importantly working) on time and within budget, which is practically unheard of in either public or private sector, was the result.

There is no doubt that the digital landscape presents challenges that many may find uncomfortable at best. Embracing new ways of thinking and applying mindset shifts is a tremendous opportunity for leaders to transform themselves, their teams and their organisations. Time to be inspired by the potential of what is possible.

Forget New Year’s Resolutions! Do These 3 Things Instead

Giving up on New Year’s resolutions? For a fresh perspective, try these three suggestions to start 2019 in the best possible way.

I gave up New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. More importantly, I have never looked back. This wasn’t a decision made in defeat because I couldn’t achieve my resolutions. After all, I followed the guidance on setting SMART goals and remembered to acknowledge the small wins that add up to cumulative success as we are often reminded to do.

It was simply that on reflection, my view was that these types of resolutions come with the expectation of a new year bringing with it a personal remodel. Nothing wrong with that of course. Self improvement is what we are all striving for;  or trying to find the time to get to if we aren’t quite there. It’s just that I realised the concept of resolutions and I were not well aligned in two fundamental ways.

Firstly, the focus of resolutions we all tend to make seems to be addressing what we see as our personal shortcomings or deficiencies. Many of us start resolutions with This year I will ( be better at, get around to)…..or This year I will not……Does not quite apply to you? You would be one of the very few of us who has not resolved to; go to the gym, improve diet, work less, be more purposeful.

Secondly, implicit in the timing of new year’s resolutions is that individual transformation can or should only take place annually.  With U.S News reporting that 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February, it seems making it through January is it’s own win.  That does not however, set us up well for the rest of the year.  Unfortunately all it does really seem to do is give us a bit over 10 months to berate what we see as a personal failure, even though the majority of the population is right there with us.


With the odds being so heavily stacked against resolutions, and for those of us not quite ready to give up yet,  what is left to do instead? It is important to note that I believe the new year is an important milestone because it creates a space for us to think about what has gone before and what we would like to realise from what is ahead. So if you, like me, were never that inspired by resolutions, these strategies may be helpful in setting up and navigating the year ahead:

Identify and cultivate moments that inspire you; then make more

Instead of thinking about what you have not done well or enough of, reflect on what you achieved in the last year both personally and professionally. Remember accomplishments, moments, and experiences where you were at your best. Some call this flow, others the zone. Irrespective of what we call it, we understand the importance of those moments. They may be very small or incidental. For me, the memory of hospitality at a little trattoria in Rome which had me sharing grappa early in the morning on an empty stomach, is just as inspiring as a large project delivered successfully. Or it may not have been the achievement of something, simply the attempt and perhaps, the surprise, of doing better than we thought. (I rode my first bicycle in 20 years in Myanmar in December and my sense of achievement was in simply staying on. This may not be a moment I will rush to replicate) Think about what you have done and consider (in whatever way works for you), how to foster the circumstances or relationships that enable you to surprise yourself. And don’t forget to provide some self-acknowledgement on the way through.

Explore self-renewal

While the start of the new year is a great time to reflect on changes we may want to make, or those we feel we need to, we know from transformation efforts in our work lives that there is never just ‘one thing”.  Any significant achievement is the culmination of detailed planning and execution and good practices, consistency, hard work, and yes, sometimes luck, all play a key part.

The strategy of self-renewal is critical here; taking inventory of experiences and finding the motivation to come back from disappointments and set backs. Understanding the importance of self-renewal gives us permission to accept that peaks and troughs are inevitable. It’s how we deal with them that matters. Consistency, mindset, and resilience matter and help us navigate the challenges. John Gardner has a brilliantly inspiring perspective on this. “ You don’t need to run down like an unwound clock. And if your clock is unwound, you can wind it up again”. He reminds us that although some challenges may seem insurmountable, we can always control how we respond. For me, simply going for a run is one of my go-tos. The distance and pace will vary depending on how I am feeling at that point in time. You can define and choose your own way to self renew that works for you.

Experiment with Curiosity

My nephews are constantly asking me questions. Although this continues to surprise me, those with children may just be glad that someone else is being subjected to the inquisitive mind of the young. Topics range from my preference for the DC versus Marvel Universe, anything sports related ( I fail miserably here), to how I ended up in Myanmar last year (I’m yet to explain that to their satisfaction).  

Instead of making a resolution for a specific intention, consider a mindset around curiosity. Experimenting with curiosity enables you to simply say you will ask questions, be open to new ideas, try new things.  Always asking why? Change your mindset and ask why not? It allows you to frame a world of possibilities and opens up opportunities that you may not otherwise be privy to or would have considered. That’s a big part of how I actually did end up in Myanmar. More importantly, curiosity sets a framework for continuous learning. That in itself facilitates new skills, different perspectives and as noted above, self-renewal. If you aren’t up to seeking something new to explore, that’s ok. A good way to start is simply to not dismiss the next idea someone shares with you. Want to simplify even more than that? Try a new food, read a book on a topic you don’t know much about, or listen to music in a new genre. Take the learning that comes with it, even if it that you won’t be doing that again!

There is no doubting that we know what we should be doing and that the challenge is always in making it a reality.  So with the start of the new year, it is a great time to remember that this year will be about continuing on the successes of last year, and the combination of small moments count just as much as the big ones.

Article by Alice Sidhu.