Digital Leadership Mindsets vs. Old-School Leadership Habits

Digital leadership requires a new mindset...or does it? Last month I published an article on medium.com titled, Five Leadership Rules for the Digital Age. The article got some good traction on LinkedIn and medium.

The very phase "digital mindset," sounds new, disruptive [a term I'm getting a little tired of], strange, and a little scary. Leaders from all sectors are scratching their heads wondering what the digital age means for their business, customers, and employees. 

Don't get me wrong, I believe that the potential pitfalls of the digital age are real. I know we've got to get better at helping leaders develop digital leadership mindsets that work. But as we do this, I think it's important to keep in mind that there are some pretty solid old-school leadership habits that can be useful for tackling new digital leadership challenges.

Survey Says...: Are Leaders Ready for the Digital Age?

Deloitte's 2017 Human Capital Trends report suggests that there's a digital leadership crisis at hand. According to this study, a mere 5% of companies feel that they have "strong digital leaders in place." However, 72% of Deloitte's survey respondents reported that they're developing new leadership programs focused on digital management. 

Over the past three weeks, I've had a chance to work with one of Deloitte's future of work thought leaders. He explained how Deloitte differentiates between "doing digital" and "being digital." Being digital is a deeper, more integrated approach to reimagining a digital future. Sounds complicated, right? 

Helping leaders build their digital leadership mindsets doesn't have to be complicated. Simplicity is old-school. 

I like the idea of helping leaders build digital leadership mindsets that drive change. However, as much as leadership demands change, some things stay the same. My advice is to keep it old-school to start with, then go digital once you've got the basics down. In other words, walk before you run. Or, as I like to say, find the beat before you try to dance.

Digital Leadership Mindsets vs. Old-School Leadership Habits

I've spent hundreds of hours studying the new demands of digital leadership for my forthcoming book on leading in the digital age. Simply put, I disagree that in order to build their digital leadership mindsets, leaders must change everything about themselves. Personally, I think that there are some pretty sweet old-school leadership habits that worked yesterday, still work today, and will work tomorrow. 

First, let me explain what I mean by "mindset." Mindsets are the mental frames or lenses through which leaders make sense of the world and their experiences. Mindsets shape how leaders think, feel, and respond to the ecosystem around them. Digital leadership mindsets shape how leaders think about things like innovation, collaboration, and the future.

What's Your Mindset About the Future of Work? 

Click the Icon Below to Find Out

Leadership mindsets future focus

The great thing about mindsets is that they can be learned, changed, and reinforced through practice. Mindsets are flexible, which is good news for everyone. But before we go changing our digital leadership mindsets about the future of work, let's look at what isn't likely to change.

OLD-SCHOOL HABIT #1: Know Thyself

In order to get results in the digital age, leaders need to understand their mindset about the future of work, harness the power of their unique mindset, and play nice with others. This is a REALLY old-school concept. 

In fact, the Ancient Greek aphorism "Know Thyself" dates back to Plato's Dialogues more than 400 years before Christ was born. This aphorism is inscribed above the Temple of Apollo, and is interpreted as enduring wisdom by some, and as a warning to be heeded by others.

Getting familiar with your leadership mindset, learning how it influences your decisions about the future, and taming how it impacts your reaction to your environment is critical to getting results. Leaders need to be self-aware. This was true yesterday. It's true today. And it will be true in the future of work.  

OLD-SCHOOL HABIT #2: Play Nice with Others

Digital leaders need to collaborate. They need to value people for their unique skills and talents. Good collaboration demands letting go of unhelpful mindsets about internal competition. Leaders need to admit when they are wrong. And they need to have an open mindset about learning, trying new stuff, failing forward, and being a contributor to a team. The days of the lone-wolf leader are over. The world is too complex, and the velocity of change too great. Leadership is a team sport.

These aren't new or disruptive ideas. They're old-school ideas that have withstood the test of time. Listen, learn, let go of ego, and be a good team-player. 

Here's a simple approach for mastering the "play nice with others" aspect of the digital leadership mindset: 

1. Identify your mindset about the future of work

2. Invite others to identify their mindset about the future of work

3. Start a conversation with one of your partners about how your approach to the future compares to their's

4. Make small commitments to work better together in the future

5. Teach others this simple approach to developing a digital leadership mindset.

OLD-SCHOOL HABIT #3: Be the Change in your Organization

Digital leaders have to show the way forward into the future. Many studies talk about leaders being "digital immigrants" or newcomers to this strange digital landscape. The truth is, we're all digital immigrants. Even millennials--often described as "digital natives"--have never worked in a truly digital world or for a truly digital company. This is great news! We're all on the same playing field when it comes to "being digital." Chances are good that everyone in your organization is going to be learning what "being digital" means at the same time. 

While the digital nature of the changes are new, the mechanics of how people and organizations must change is old-school. Gandhi teaches us to, "be the change you wish to see in the world." This means that change starts with you. Being digital doesn't mean waiting for others to change. It means starting with yourself.


Good digital leadership is good leadership. It requires deep self-awareness, awesome teamwork, and a willingness to change your thinking, feeling and actions. 

I hope the Future Focus mindset tool helps you work better with your team to tackle the future of work together. Leave me a comment if you have shown the courage to "be the digital change" in your organization, or if you have a great future-focused leadership mindset story. And, as always,  I'll see you in the future! 

Chris Groscurth, Ph.D.

Chris Groscurth, Ph.D., is author of Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For the past 20 years he has worked as a researcher and strategic advisor to leaders across healthcare, finance, manufacturing, government and education. In addition to his consulting work, Chris addresses thousands of leaders annually through speaking engagements and workshops. Throughout his career, he has held leadership positions with Gallup, the University of Michigan, and Trinity Health. Chris currently leads Stryker's global learning design and development team, shaping the future of leadership in a high-growth medical technology company. Chris received his doctorate in human communication processes from the University of Georgia and has bachelor's and master's degrees in human communication studies from Western Michigan University.

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