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  • Writer's pictureTom Bryant

Survival Skills for Leaders in the Digital Age

For those of you who read my blog 'Digital transformation and swimming with sharks...literally!' will know I'm a bit adventurous when it comes to pushing my boundaries - a skill itself required in this fast-paced, digital disruptive age.  Well, I've done it again.  Even though my undertaking of a Bear Grylls' survival experience was to raise awareness of the plight of Syrian refugee children in camps around Europe, I was struck by the transferable skills for leaders navigating the challenging terrain of digital transformation.  

Agility, risk taking, learner's mentality, the name of the game for leaders in a dynamic market full of industry disruptors.

I spent this past weekend in Dartmoor National Park to learn survival skills in the same terrain used for training the Royal Marine Commandos.  The joining instructions for Bear Grylls Survival Academy state you need:  courage, instinct, resourcefulness, determination, spirit, fire within, self-reliance and hope.  Bear goes on to say, 'Some of the toughest times have had the greatest impact on me.  Push yourself and learn life-saving skills & attitudes such as resourcefulness and calm under pressure.'  If that doesn't apply to real leadership today, I don't know what does.  Sounds suspiciously like things I've said before during executive coaching.  

Take just 3 of those descriptors from Bear and contextualise for business leaders:

Courage - Risk and experimentation is needed to evolve our business models, products and services in order to stay relevant.  Apple had the courage and risk appetite to experiment with touch screen technology.  Blackberry didn't.  I'm sure the leaders of Blackberry wish they had had more courage on June 29, 2007, which was the launch of the iPhone.  Where is Blackberry today?  Steve Jobs once said that innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower.

Instinct - Study how other companies like Nokia, Kodak, Blockbuster, Xerox, Borders Books and Polaroid all failed to survive digital transformation.  Learn from these and grow your instinct as a leader.  Horizon scan emerging technology trends and develop instinct in how they can impact your business, your products, your workforce, your market position.  

Resourcefulness - New rules mean new ways of being resourceful.  For example, tap into the younger, digital-native demographic of your workforce through programmes like reverse mentoring.  I recently interviewed Steven Taylor, former CFO of Alitalia, who commented, 'Don't be offended if a 22-year-old comes up with a solution to a business problem.'  That's true resourcefulness.   I would go even further and say to any older Gen leaders who may be stuck in old-style 'authoritarian' approaches:

Drop the attitude.  Days of command & control and leading from a posh, corner office are over.

There is so much power in new ways of collaborating.  The rules, expectations, tools and skills have shifted.  Get resourceful and shift with them - or retire!   Remember the simple quote from Lao Tzu:  'To lead people, walk behind them.'

Now take the other descriptors from Bear above and do your own comparison.  It doesn't matter what industry, sector, business you are in, digital transformation is impacting it.  If you think the skills of Bear Grylls belong just in the jungle or celebrity survival shows - Think again!

(...and yes, true Bear G style, I ate worms for lunch - yuk!)

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