Leading in the Digital World: How to Foster Creativity, Collaboration, and Inclusivity (Management on the Cutting Edge) – Amit Mukherjee

Leading in the Digital World | The MIT Press

A commendable primer on the pre-requisites that would define the trajectory of both a leader as well as the company that she is responsible for, “Leading in the Digital World” is a handy guide to the Corporate chieftain. At the heart of Mr. Mukherjee’s book is the influence of what he terms constitute long-arc-of-impact technologies, technologies that have the capability of bringing a paradigm shift in both mindsets as well as markets. A few well known examples of such technologies as highlighted by Mr. Mukherjee are micrometers, third-angle projection engineering drawings, and go-no-go gauges. In a world characterized by the acronym VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), where the mantra is digitize or perish, the traditional bastions of leadership stand pitifully outmoded. The current leader can neither afford to possess an authoritarianism bent nor can be invested with a vicious streak. Gone are the days when business magazines could publish lists of “America’s Toughest Bosses” that began with the words, “In an era of endless restructuring, cutting heads like Robespierre on a rampage is just average. While making the list became a cause celebre, remaining on it accorded a hallowed view of the men involved (invariably it was men who made the cut). Consider the some of the names that featured on the list, as alluded to by Mr. Mukherjee: “Edwin Artzt (Procter & Gamble), Robert Crandall (American Airlines), Maurice Greenberg (American International Group), Andy Grove (Intel), Steve Jobs (then at NeXT), Andrall Pearson (PepsiCo), Donald Rumsfeld (Searle) and Jack Welch (GE). The monikers used by their compatriots, or assigned by Fortune, are also telling: Prince of Darkness, Jack the Ripper, The Pompadoured Bully, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde —a “thoroughgoing SOB—cold, calculating, and mean.” Clearly, authoritarianism wasn’t an aberration; it is how American companies were regularly led.”

Mr. Mukherjee identifies seven indispensable principles by which the modern day “digital leader” must go about the business of conducting business. As the founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff famously exhorted, “the business of business is no longer business.” So, what are these seven principles? Here goes:

  • Digital technologies reduce, or eliminate, the value of an elite group’s skills or knowledge and enable—and may even require—the automation of its work;
  • Digital technologies augment the capabilities of less-skilled people, enabling them to undertake tasks they couldn’t earlier;
  • Digital technologies enable—and may even require—work to be distributed over time and geography;
  • Digital technologies enable—and even require—work to be increasingly thought-driven instead of being muscle powered;
  • Digital technologies create needs that aren’t predictable and/or add disproportionately great value;
  • Digital technologies expose organizations to radical transparency, which may—or may not—benefit them individually, or their networks or society at large; and
  • Digital technologies interact with and affect an organization’s external environment.

What distinguishes the leader of the future and separates the wheat from the chaff is an ability to seamlessly work with teams spread across geographies, respecting gender diversity and according equal opportunities and an attitude to relegate stereotypes to the dustbin and gain the most out of the facets of diversity. Benioff is again a torchbearer of change in this regard. As Mr. Mukherjee explains, “Benioff had taken a very public position supporting LGBTQ rights in a US state that passed a discriminatory law. He had urged other CEOs to do the same. During the interview, he said that though the percent of women in his company was less than 30%, he wanted to increase it to 50% in five years. As a result of an audit Salesforce had conducted, it had found imbalances in the salaries paid to men and women. It responded by increasing salaries for 6% of the staff. It had mandated changes in hiring and promotion policies so women and minorities would always be included in applicant pools. Another policy required women to constitute at least 30% of the attendees in any meeting.”

Mr. Mukherjee emphasis the need to evolve from evolve from “ethnocentricity (which can range from denial to denigration of other cultures) to ethnorelativity (which seeks out differences, accepting their importance and adapting) to integration (which is having a multicultural worldview).” There is a pressing need to pay heed and accord respect to cultural, linguistic and territorial peculiarities. “Former ABB CEO Goran Lindahl’s tweak of a predecessor’s policy is particularly relevant to the digital epoch. He famously declared that the official language of ABB was not just English, but “poor English.” That beautifully crafted policy made it easier for everyone to speak. Mr. Mukherjee also reiterates that leaders must be “T Prime” leaders. According to Wouter Van Wersch, CEO of GE Asia-Pacific T-Prime leaders have “the ability to navigate the in-between places that experts avoid.” These are leaders who have a wider wingspan (gamut of knowledge) than long tails (specialized depth in a field).

Mr. Mukherjee also warns his readers about the tendency to fall into certain dogmatic traps. Hence, he appeals to leaders to follow certain ground rules:

  • eliminate the “language of leadership” problem from your vocabulary;
  • address perceptions of unfairness wherever possible.
  • reduce the mutual incomplete knowledge problem.
  • seek inputs from people with different perspectives.
  • understand the power of implicit bias and take mitigating actions.
  • tackle the difficult task of assuring consistency across individual acts of inclusion.

Mr. Mukherjee also warns leaders against the pernicious quality of ‘ethical fading.’ For the uninitiated, ethical fading happens when the ethical aspects of a decision disappear. Instances of ethical fading abound when people focus heavily on some other aspect of a decision, such as profitability or winning. People tend to see what they are looking for, and if they are not looking for an ethical issue, they may miss it altogether.

The authenticity of this book lies in the fact that this is a culmination of A global survey of 700 mid-tier to senior executives and interviews with C-level executives from around the world.

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