Digital Transformation: How To Know If Your Leaders Are Up To The Job

October 23, 2017  |   Blog   |     |   Comments Off on Digital Transformation: How To Know If Your Leaders Are Up To The Job

In this era of rapid transformation, one recurring observation is the importance of Responsive Leadership to drive change. Whilst important, there are a couple of caveats missing from the conversation to date.

The most specific caveat is that Responsive Leadership cannot sit in isolation at the top; it needs to permeate throughout the organisation until it is dripping from its very DNA – its an “all-in” affair.

From the personal perspective; identifying the presence of Responsive Leadership is also a critical component in building a successful business. Customers with even a twinkling of Responsive Leadership offer a foot-hold from which success can be built; Organisations without it, are likely to subvert even our most stringent of efforts and are better left alone until the urgency deepens and the need to change is recognised.

So how do you identify Responsive Leadership?

Its actually quite simple when you know what to look for:

In the mid 1980’s Boris Becker stunned the tennis world with a serve that was considered unplayable. Game by game, player by player, point by point, Becker conquered all he faced, one explosive serve, at a time.

He was unbeatable!

That was of course until Andre Agassi worked out his secret, which he shared many years later:

“His serve was something the game had never seen before so I watched tape after tape of him, and stood across the net from him 3 different times, and started to realise he had this weird tick with his tongue.

I’m not kidding. He’d go into his rocking motion, his routine, and just as he would toss the ball he would stick his tongue out and it would either be right in the middle of his lip, or in the left corner of his lip… if he put his tongue in the middle of his lip he was either serving up the middle or to the body, but if he put it to the side, he was going to serve out wide.

That was the problem with Boris. I didn’t have a problem breaking his serve. I had a problem hiding the fact I could break his serve at will.”

Agassi went on to win 9 of their next 11 matches… the Becker spell had been broken.

In sport, and psychology, these behavioural quirks are known as Telegraphing.

In boxing, subtle twitches tell you what punch is coming next. In cricket, the bowlers’ grip reveals what ball is about to be bowled. In business, it’s the attitudes and beliefs of employees toward enacting change, that tell you about the pervasive responsiveness of leadership.

In Organisations without responsive leaders, conversations are dominated by the reality of navigating the political environment – they are unsafe.

For many of these organisations, unprompted employee initiative is usually rewarded with a savage bludgeoning with the importance of compliance. As a result, initiative atrophies, and the language shifts to focus on which gate keepers have to be convinced, and sign-offs achieved, before people can move forward safely.

Its draining, its hard and its slow; and if one of the gate-keepers happens to object to the suggested change then the initiative is usually killed there and then, or subverted by a malicious adherence to protocol.

To those organisations we recommend either reworking their leadership practises as a non-negotiable starting point; or, reallocating the funds they plan to spend on our services to the Christmas party.

High performers, on the other hand, are different.

A few years ago, I was working with one of Australia’s leading fastfood chains, where I saw a new employee do something amazing. This employee, without permission, had uploaded the company’s induction program onto an unsanctioned, free, online learning tool so they could learn in a way that suited them.

The employee’s supervisor found out what had happened, and instead of hammering the employee for publishing IP, promptly shared the link across the companies private Social Network, where it was picked up and spread across the 200+ stores.

Having worked with numerous hierarchical organisations with clearly defined roles of accountability, I was curious to hear how this was greeted internally:

 “What did the L&D team think about having someone redo their induction training? Were they ok about being bypassed and having their IP published on an uncontrolled site?”

The guy shrugged, “They didn’t care… they only cared that it worked”

His response left me in silent admiration.

While not all organisations can afford to be so relaxed about their IP; the ability to embrace improvement, irrespective of origin or politics, really stands out as a clear differentiator between those who are winning the day, from those who are going through the motions.

Even in sapling stages of responsiveness, successful organisations almost always talk about the enablement that a subsequent change can bring about. They talk about the places it could add value and the specific people who would directly benefit from its implementation – it’s a very different conversation that enables an approach fuelled by creativity, draws from a well of self-replenishing enthusiasm and almost always results in lifting the organisation to a point of higher of functioning.

After playing Agassi, Becker used to go home to his wife, bury his face in his hands and say: “Its like he reads my mind…”

So if you’re ever wondering about the fitness of your leadership function to lead a transformation, have a think:

How would your organistion have responded to that New Employee?


What is the current language of your people?

The clues are all there – we just need to know what to look for.

By @wardsco

Scott is a specialist in Digital Strategy and Change and can be contacted though:



Scott (35 Posts)

CEO Digital Infusions

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