Defining Digital Leadership During COVID-19

May 18, 2020 Tarandeep Singh

First published on ETHRWorld.com


At a time when we were getting tired of the noise around digital transformation, Covid-19 arrived and jolted companies to check their digital readiness. It turned out to be a mixed bag for corporate India with some sectors (technology, media, fintech, edtech) being better prepared compared to others (manufacturing, logistics, education). One lesson, however, has been ubiquitous. Managing the economy of the future will require a different style of leadership, one that is equipped to respond to emerging threats and opportunities rapidly. But how ready are we to define and assess digital strength of our leaders?

In the recently-concluded Aon’s 2020 Global Digital Readiness Survey with over 1550 respondents across diverse industry segments, there were two significant insights. First, over 59% of HR leaders said their organisation hadn’t defined the set of skills required for digital transformation; and second, about 61% of them reported their organisation did not know how to spot digital potential. Another Aon survey confirmed that only 41% of companies were assessing leaders for digital readiness. This, undoubtedly, throws up a considerable gap between creating digitally ready business and leadership/talent required to meet the above challenge.

Defining Digital Leader

A high-quality leadership assessment model doesn’t just identify traits that are needed to lead right now — it looks for the timeless leadership traits that leaders will need to move their company forward despite the volatile, complex and uncertain nature of the modern business climate. Our research narrows it down to three cornerstones: agile mindset, leading change, and driving business.

Agile mindset suggests that an individual will have the ability to learn, adapt to changes in their environment and seek new skills and experiences on the job. Flexibility, adaptability and resilience are needed across the workforce, but nowhere are those traits more important than in leadership.

Leading change is about steering people in a volatile work environment, promoting and inspiring collaboration, empowering team members to embrace change and drive their self-development, being self-aware and be willing to move into the role of a humble facilitator. Companies will face unexpected setbacks and challenges in the coming decade. They will need leaders who can thrive despite setbacks and adapt to new ways of working, new business models and new forms of technology. Often, the hurdles are more significant and more challenging for leaders than for individual contributors. The challenges at the leadership level are magnified.

Driving business is about global networking, identifying and developing business opportunities, generating solutions and taking calculated risks, and ultimately driving business success. It is also about how integrity, reliability and resilience are needed to handle pressure and continuous regulatory changes.

Put on Your Oxygen Masks First

The words of every in-flight attendant before the take-off strongly resonate during the times of crisis. As with any leadership intervention, one’s awareness of personal emotions, feelings and behaviours plays a significant part in the impact one creates on others. Hence, one key recommendation for a leader is to assess one’s own mental and emotional state before one engages with the team.

Change creates anxious moments – for the leader and the team. A leader should ask himself: Am I comfortable with my current reality? Can I objectively coach a colleague to adapt? Even as leaders adapt to the crisis, HR and talent leaders have a responsibility to the organisation – Just like talent assessment projects, a company-wide analysis of the leaders’ personality, abilities, strengths and weakness can help reveal whether one has the nimble, agile, flexible leaders required for uncertain times.


Disclaimer: This document has been provided as an informational resource for Aon clients and business partners. It is intended to provide general guidance on potential exposures, and is not intended to provide medical advice or address medical concerns or specific risk circumstances. Due to the dynamic nature of infectious diseases, Aon cannot be held liable for the guidance provided. We strongly encourage visitors to seek additional safety, medical and epidemiological information from credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. As regards insurance coverage questions, whether coverage applies or a policy will respond to any risk or circumstance is subject to the specific terms and conditions of the insurance policies and contracts at issue and underwriter determinations.

About the Author

Tarandeep Singh

Tarandeep Singh leads Aon’s Assessment Solutions for Asia Pacific and Middle East. He has more than 22 years extensive experience in human capital consulting and change management. Tarandeep supports clients in driving growth and enabling transformation, with a focus on product strategy and service solutioning.

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