Stylish businessman
Today's leaders need to adapt to new digital workplace realities. PHOTO: Olu Eletu

Successful digital enterprises need to embrace more than the latest technologies: they need to embed cultural changes about work, work practices and company management. 

They also need to align leadership styles with digital workplace needs, explained Paul Miller, CEO and founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG).

DWG maps, navigates and connects the digital workplace across the globe. It doesn't have a permanent physical head office, although staff and associates meet physically at least once a month for a co-working day, as well as at member meetings.

Miller believes all businesses, regardless of what audience they serve need to go digital or face extinction. And the same goes for leaders: those who resist adapting to the new realities of the workplace also face an uncertain future.

A Shifting Landscape for Leaders

Miller knows of what he speaks: he is co-author of The Digital Renaissance of Work – Delivering Digital Workplaces Fit for the Future and author of The Digital Workplace: How Technology is Liberating Work.

He's currently sharing his insights on why leaders must shift from dictators to influencers to have an impact in the digital workplaces they lead.

Paul Miller
Paul MillerPHOTO: Digital Workplace Group

In three key talks to representatives from Cisco, Harvard Business Review and the European Commission, he is outlining the five new principles for leadership in the modern digital workplace, which enable reaching out to a workforce that now includes everyone from employees and contractors to freelancers, mobile workers, partners and the supply chain.

Miller spoke at Cisco and the Harvard Business Review last month. On Nov. 29, he'll visit the European Commission in Brussels.

Leadership in the Digital Workplace

To achieve velocity in the emerging digital workplace, present and engaged leaders are essential, Miller said. Today's leaders need to understand new models of enterprise collaboration, embrace new technologies and shift their mindsets to thrive in the digital future.

Miller identified five essential principles.

1. Cultivate a digital presence

“Leading in a modern organization means being digitally present rather than physically present. The physicality of your leadership is less and less important in the digital era, but your digital presence becomes more important," he told CMSWire.

Leaders need to be digitally present in all the digital spaces provided by the company, from various social networks to video conferences, blogs, intranets and anywhere else that a connected worker expects to contact and work with their peers. 

Four other principles flow from this digital presence, he continued.

2. Understand who you lead

While traditional organizations are made up of teams within the enterprise, digital organizations tend to extend beyond the company boundaries to include contractors, freelancers and a host of related workers.

“If you are at a senior level inside an organization, traditionally this means leading your employees. Increasingly, though, digital means leading contractors, freelancers, partners and people associated with  wider relationships the company has. Companies need to think and to talk about and understand leadership, companies and work relationships in a much more porous way.”

This dovetails with growing interest from enterprise collaboration platform providers in extending reach across firewalls.

3. Lead by persuasion

Digital enterprises require more conversational, less dictatorial management. 

“Telling people what to do is a very ineffective way of leading an organization now. It may seem like a lot of effort and lot of pressure, but you need to be including people in decision making through conversation and persuasion,” Miller said.

It doesn’t mean leaders have lost their clout in the company hierarchy. 

"It  just means you need to be involved in enterprise conversations and learn to lead by persuading people. You still need to lead, but the style and format must change.”

However, Miller said some traditional aspects of management remain constant.

“Someone still needs to have a clear vision, must outline business strategies and keep the organization focused on this. Some things just aren’t going to change.”

4. Streamline management

Digital workplaces need less management because software is replacing many repetitive people tasks. "In the past you needed to be told what was on you schedule the next day. This was done through human intervention,” he said

“Now the system does it and if any part of the work process changes, those changes can be pushed by the software. Essentially technology is starting to manage people.”

With increasing use of artificial intelligence this kind of human-software work will increase

5. Be human

Digital workers may enjoy using technology but they expect their human interactions to be personal. Leaders have to do more than issue communications that sound like they've all been shoved through a PR machine. 

Be authentic.

“In an organization, if you want to be an influential person, allow people to experience of you as an individual with your own personality. Communicate in your own voice. You need to convey a sense your communications are not manufactured by corporate communication offices.”