Leaders must move into the digital age

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A panel at the UNLEASH expo discussed the changing profile of a leader and the importance of learning to 'let go'

The profile of a leader needs to change if they are to remain relevant in the digital age, agreed a panel speaking on day two of the UNLEASH conference and expo in London.

Humility, adaptability and strong communication skills were identified as some of the key attributes required for this new age of leadership.

Speaking on the panel, Fiona Mullan, VP of international HR at Facebook, said: “In HR we tend to try to identify the traditional competencies of a leader, but we are beginning to see that this is an impossible task.”

She shared her perspective that a strong leader should be someone who wants to constantly learn and adapt over time, and someone who is capable of building a followership, so as to attract and retain high-performing talent in the business.

The panel, including Yoox Net-a-Porter Group’s chief people officer Deborah Lee and Google Cloud’s head of customer change and culture Kim Wylie, agreed that technology can help leaders break down barriers and silos within both their teams and wider organisations.

Lee shared her experience of introducing a communication tool that allowed all members of the workforce to voice their opinions and ideas to leaders in real time, removing hierarchy and communicating “left, right, up and down the organisation”.

“Leaders can’t control the content on this type of technology – they have to let go of control,” she commented. “But the idea of letting go can scare the traditional type of leader.”

Mullan agreed that this “stepping back” can also go against the typical mentality of an HR leader, “as a department that is normally under control and is seen as a policy and decision-maker”.

She added: “It also creates a greater need for leaders to be transparent as they must answer the challenges their workers raise.”

One of the most popular aspects of Yoox Net-a-Porter’s tool is the Pet-a-Porter platform where employees can post pictures of their pets; something Lee believes is important because it allows workers “to bring their authentic selves into work and connect with colleagues”.

At Facebook a similar approach is taken, with employees encouraged to use their Facebook profiles in the workplace. “It’s important that when employees walk in the physical door to the office they feel they can be the same person that they were over the weekend,” Mullan said.

“This comes down to the manager making sure all employees feel included, regardless of background.”

But, Lee warned, technology also brings a number of challenges for leaders; raising ethical and moral questions around the power that data brings. She urged leaders to remember that, while “technology can act as a great tool, it is more important that there is a core, stable line of what you stand for as a company”.

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