The rise of digital platforms and partnerships signifies a switch in business model from “Do it Myself” to”Do it With Others”, calling for a new style of leadership to meet customer needs effectively.

Business strategists have been recalculating the formula for achieving competitive advantage for quite some time. Product differentiation is getting harder to achieve and is proving unsustainable; instead it’s the experience that businesses create for their customers that is proving enduring.

We can see this hypothesis proved in the non-proprietary and platform business models that have burgeoned in recent years. AirBnb, Etsy, Amazon and Uber – these platform-based success stories, formed upon collaborative partnerships, are outranking their competition by delivering choice, value and a seamless user experience.

We are increasingly appreciating the transformational power of digital and data which allows us to deliver a superior experience for the customer but it’s only one part of the equation. To fully harness this transformational potential we need to change the way we as leaders lead and execute upon our strategy – and this requires a new style of leadership: a style which models agility, high performance and a high sensitivity to talent (its identification and management).

Bringing the outside in

In this epoch of disruption, sustaining organisations will be those that can adapt their organisational structures rapidly.

Organisations need to reflect and adapt to the external environment in much the same way as a scrum team operates – pivoting, reorganising, experimenting and adapting. So leaders will first need to become adept at quickly assembling bespoke teams composed of skilled individuals which continually coalesce and disperse and re-assemble to suit the ever changing business environment and customer priorities.

Secondly, leaders will need to rethink how they measure performance. Successful businesses will be those that adopt their customers’ problems as their own. There has to be a complete realignment: your customers’ KPIs need to be your KPIs. Apply a customer lens to all aspects of your business.

And thirdly, as a leader, you need to identify and harness the best from your talent pool to deliver on this new paradigm effectively. Today it’s less about employing a ‘command and control’ approach and more about curating and conducting and giving people the necessary freedom to test and learn. Because the reality is, there’s no longer an existing blueprint for success. If we’re aligning ourselves with our customers and learning as we go, in a world where the end is unknowable, we must be open to failure – something as leaders we are not normally comfortable with.

This scenario calls for a more conceptual style of leadership. If the end is unknowable, making room for failure requires a mindset and behavioural shift, combined with the ability to recover and reorient quickly. If we aren’t able to achieve our outcome, we need to quickly understand why. What did we learn? What can we do differently? And how will we measure and assess our progress as we pivot and repurpose?

It’s a more fluid way of working than we’ve been traditionally accustomed to and requires a cultural shift with agility at its heart.

We are living in an epoch of transformation which while prizing technical skills and an appreciation of digital and data, recognises that the real metamorphosis from which business success will emerge will come from agile, customer centred and people focused leadership.

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