Uncertainty has its upside. Leadership in digital economy

It may be a cliché, but the assertion that everything in business changes kaleidoscopically perfectly describes today’s global economy. In the digital age, business leaders must be prepared to reset their habits and views continuously.

Digital Era Leader Norbert Biedrzycki blog

It may be a cliché, but the assertion that everything in business changes kaleidoscopically perfectly describes today’s global economy. While rigid and entrenched business models are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to change everything has forced contemporary leaders to face a host of new challenges. In the digital age, business leaders must be prepared to reset their habits and views continuously.

Today, one of the key characteristics of the business environment is its plasticity: customer behaviors, data flows, and political and economic conditions are constantly changing and evolving unpredictably. Uncertainty, and its attendant discomforts is the new normal. No managers, business owners or employees can (or should) be confident that what happened yesterday will happen tomorrow, or even that today’s strategy will be appropriate to tomorrow’s conditions. This lack of confidence poses a challenge for business executives and other leaders. What can they do to gain a sense of power over the organizations they manage? How can they regain a fundamental sense of control in an age defined by changeability?


In today’s world, leaders must understand that:


Everything is digital

A mere decade ago, business owners learned about the importance of displaying their products on the internet. They realized that having a well-designed website was essential for capturing the customers who prefer to shop in the comfort of their homes. But this web presence was viewed as an enhancement, an add-on to traditional sales channels. Marketers still relied heavily on tested and proved offline tools, such as surveys and mystery shoppers to identify customer needs.

No more. Technology is no longer an accessory. Every business is a digital business. Big data, cloud computing, social media, mobile apps and automated marketing have taken over. They are all deployed to conduct a variety of transactions and make purchases. The line between the offline and online worlds has blurred, if not vanished entirely. Anyone who aspires to run an organization must realize and accept this as a fact of life. Only then will they be able to build credibility in the eyes of their co-workers, customers and competitors.

In Poland, few managers and CEOs today inherited companies that were technologically advanced. Local enterprises, set up a dozen or so years ago, had to undergo profound overhauls to be able to compete successfully with global players that employ the latest management methods. Companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Uber were born digital, never used conventional tools, and these and similar digital natives have been setting the new industry standards; other businesses have had to measure themselves against the benchmarks they have established. As a result, leaders developing new business strategies need to bear in mind that the technology departments they task with building and supporting digital processes across their organizations will define their success (or their lack of it). Accordingly, business leaders must include technology experts when making key decisions, as they are the people most knowledgeable about the latest tools and how they are used globally. Today’s leaders need to understand that although technology exploration may be resource-intensive, neither competitiveness nor growth can be achieved without them.


They must watch the customer

The founder of the global shopping platform Alibaba.com has said, “We put customers first, employees second, and shareholders only third.”

That’s the way it has to be. Today’s customers are merciless, unforgiving, and empowered to express and act on their displeasure. They have no tolerance for slip-ups, slow service or outdated product ranges. They do not care to know that the procedures required to satisfy their needs take a great deal of time, effort and money to put in place. Once a new shopping model appears that allows customers to place their orders, pay and get their product within minutes, that model is demanded, unconditionally. Providers cannot negotiate those terms. Customers raised on global online stores rather than shopping malls vote for that model with their wallets.

What lessons can the modern leader learn from this? No matter how good and convincing your ideas may be, and how much money you have invested in developing your business, you are bound to fail unless you accept that the customer is theprimum mobile, the center of the business universe, the alpha and omega.  Therefore, one of the guiding principles of public relations to which modern leaders should adhere is to cater humbly and happily to any customer expectations. This is especially true when it comes to acquiring the new customers every business needs to grow. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has said: “If your customer base is aging with you, then eventually you are going to become obsolete or irrelevant. You need to be constantly figuring out who your new customers are and what you are doing to stay forever young.”


Speed is of the essence

Leaders must stay abreast of market developments and see their companies through the eyes of their customers. While opinions about product and services used to spread slowly, giving one time to reflect, today even a small Facebook post, or tweet, may swiftly, cause a major crisis and require a massive PR or crisis communication response.

Leaders must accept that changes at any echelon of their organizations may become vital within the next five minutes. Companies that are slow to make decisions and that take too long to muse over the changes they should make are likely to end up being relegated to the sidelines. Therefore, digital age leaders must learn to make decisions faster. This obviously involves stress and risk-taking, but there is no way around it. The market belongs to those who know that when it comes to adjustments in one’s company, every minute counts.


There are many voices, all worth listening to

Given the extent and breadth of ongoing change, one person cannot keep up. Leaders must listen to the opinions of all members of their teams or risk losing touch with reality. If their co-workers insist that an idea is not going to fly, the leader should seriously reconsider his or her plans. Listening to trusted experts who use well-grounded arguments is not a sign of weakness; on the contrary, leaders capable of acknowledging they do not have all the answers are more valuable to their companies than autocrats.

Rapid decision-making requires not only intuition but also the ability to use information and information-processing tools. Digital age leaders should learn about digital technologies and the possibilities they offer by using them, and by valuing all new data sources, including comments from internet users of their products and services. Those data flows are just as (if not more) valuable as specialized data reserved for internal circulation.


Change is not always popular

Advances in automation may benefit companies in many ways, allowing them to achieve goals faster, more cheaply, and often better, too. Advanced technologies can alter a company’s business model and product range, as well as affect customer behaviors. However, they can also disrupt the functioning of an organization, and even change the rules of the game for an entire industry.

The people who consider following the latest technologies to be their top priority find technological advances very exciting. However, lower-level managers and non-managerial workers often are much less enthusiastic; they are all-too-aware of the disruptive potential of these tools, especially as regards job loss. Leaders, especially those that run tech companies, must learn to talk about the importance of new technologies for their businesses without threatening their employees’ security. It will take time for a company to benefit from process automation and become more efficient. In the meantime, executives will have to confront mistrustful managers who, rightly or wrongly, wonder about whether their project may eventually put them out of a job.


You can’t go it alone

Digital age leaders cannot afford to waste time resenting the complex and unpredictable nature of today’s market. As trends become more volatile, customers more whimsical and technologies more all-important, it is going to become harder to construct a complete picture of the operating landscape in your mind. It will therefore be more important than ever for leaders to surround themselves with competent people who work well together. A close-knit team and a clear vision of what one strives to achieve – as well as a great deal of humility and flexibility – can help leaders grow their organizations and drive their businesses towards success.


Related articles:

– From Dictator to Partner

– Who will gain and who will lose in digital revolution?

– Can machines tell right from wrong?

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Leave a Reply


  1. Simon GEE

    Goals matter – and where they are set say much about how big the vision is of those who set them. Set safe goals and you may reach them, but will you ever know what you could have done? Big goals might not be reached, but they challenge thinking and approach in ways that would never have been concerned possible.

  2. TomHarber

    Leaders have long gotten away with vocally supporting policies and procedures, but their actions say otherwise. That tide will turn.

  3. Jack666

    Well articulated, well presented – thanks for sharing it Norbert.

  4. Oscar2

    The Midas touch of the digital age.
    It is worth to predict an increase in demand by ………. for strong computing units. -:)

  5. JohnE3

    One role of an ethical leader is focusing on the overall importance of ethics, including ethical standards and other ethical issues, and how these factors can influence society. As an ethical leader, it’s important to teach peers about ethics, especially in cases where they are faced with an ethical issue in the workplace.

    • Check Batin

      Intelligence too is a cline, not a bounded category. Every structure is intelligent in that it predicts (causes) some futures more than it predicts (causes) other futures. Now that we have a deffiniton of intelligence and one that is not domain or scale dependent.

  6. Check Batin

    How about taking the middle ground? Some jobs are lost and some new ones appear. Theres going to be a shift in the marketspace, which will benefit some and hurt others.

  7. SimonMcD

    Authentic leadership has many difinitions, e.g. one that refers to self-awareness: an ongoing process of reflection and re-examination by the leader of his or her own strength, weaknesses, and values; another refers to moral component – respect, openess, good values. For me the first definitione is more appealing only when you do understand who you are, values you have and why you do what you do you can trully go to exellencelearn but do not copy. First know yourself – it will make your leadership journey easier. If you understand who you are it will allow you to find out your weaknesses and strengths.

  8. Tom299

    Few questions:
    1. What makes someone a good leader?
    2. Who can be a leader? -> born or trained
    3. What is the most important feature of great leader? Charisma? Look? Emotional intelligence? Persistence? Wisdom/intelligence? Big picture thinking? Team player?
    4. Can you win elections without overpromise and lies?
    5. Can you lead a company with integrity and full honesty, without window dressing?

  9. Adam Spark Two

    In politics e.g. member of goverment or presidents have auhority. In business CEO or board members or managers at different levels. Sometimes we say about bad leaders that failed to deliver in the context of people holding authority. We expect people holidng authority to solve problems, in particular our problems. But are they capable to do so? Do they have leadership qualities that make them use the authority to solve problems, address chalenges? How many political leaders are remembred for what they did/achieved/problems solved? Transformational leadership that changes the world in a positive way? Examples? Why we have crisis in EU? US elections? Populists? Is it lack of leadership? Why so many companies get bunkrupt? Gready bankers? Where are the leaders that transform the world in a positive sense? Many people ask those questions – why? I share few more thoughts on this later.

  10. Adam Spark Two

    The effect would be to increase our memory capacity and strengthen our cognitive functions to unimaginable boundaries. In fact, we would have the opportunity to connect with other human brains as we can today communicate with computers or phones belonging to other people. Thus, we would have a direct insight into all the content created in our entire human history and to the content that is created on an ongoing basis in the intellectual process.

  11. Mac McFisher

    What is Ledareship? What do you think? Give me one word that you can best associate with leadership.

    Followship – a lot of people consider leadership in the contex of working with other people – I even remember one of previous Deloitte’s global CEO’s who said that for him leadership is followship; in this context people would say that there is a charismatic leader followed by a group of believers (employees, fans, supporters) etc. Followship refers to the qualities of the leader – appealing leaders have followers. Example in politics: Barack Obama; in business: Warren Buffet
    For me this is a good and true definition that touches the core of leadership however it is not the one that I buy into.

    Vision – leadership is aimed at getting the dream become reality. Some people do consider that leadership should be about achieving great things and appeling vision is critical to succesful leadership. From that perspective great vision is more important that peesonal qualities of leader. Examples? In politics: America first! Make America great again!It is also true in many cases but again it is not the one that I buy into.

    Finally Change – for me this is key to leadership – to lead is to drive change that impacts people. Why The following reasons:
    Differentation between leadership and management – leaders change the world and managers maintain/cultivate status quo and make sure it works;
    to some extent we are playing with the words here, very often managers are also leaders and leaders are managers – this is true where leaders are in formal leading positions. But formal position is not required to do leadership; actually you can lead in almost any position e.g. from the back seat; I will say a bit more about it later
    Change is uncomfortable and so leadership is; why? Because most often people resist change, it changes stauts quo which is often comfortable or known, change brings the need to adjust or change habbits

  12. Jack666

    “Leaders must accept that changes at any echelon of their organizations may become vital within the next five minutes. Companies that are slow to make decisions and that take too long to muse over the changes they should make are likely to end up being relegated to the sidelines. ”

    This is a really good point that I am going to try and learn from.

    I have to ashamedly confess, I have been guilty of doing this. Not necessarily amongst colleagues but when pitching to the teams, as it’s a easy way of sounding impressive.

    • AdaZombie

      Leadership challenges in the global world, complex problems – no easy answers, why we blame on authority. World is already complex more than before. We are connected, all is transparent & globalized. New technologies enable greater social influence/ manipulation.

      • TomaszK1

        Your brain is architecturally parallel. If else is a sequential concept.

        • Tom Jonezz

          “Now that we have a definition of intelligence” well, THAT was impressive LOL

        • TomCat

          Please if you don’t believe that intelligence is synonymous with prediction, please do offer a reasoned robust critique and or an alternative definition.

        • CaffD

          Come on, show your alternative hypothesis. Present a reasoned coherent critique that falsifies my definition of intelligence as any system of prediction.

          • CaffD

            I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, whatever they are. To be honest? I find what your statements pretentious and confused. I feel no need to “win the argument” 🙂

          • AndrewJo

            Well people who actually know a subject and are willing to teach what they know sure are annoying. Knowledge has a way of getting in the way of delusions and we can’t have any of that!

  13. ZoraBora

    It is a cliche. I have seen this already. In my opinion digital does not have nothing to with it. Its Science

    • DDonovan

      Do not agree. As an ethical leader, it’s important to remember that actions often speak louder than words. People are more likely to judge someone based on how they act, rather than what they say. By practicing and demonstrating the use of ethical, honest and unselfish behavior to subordinates, ethical leaders may begin to earn the respect of their peers. People may be more likely to follow a leader who respects others and shows integrity.

    • TomK

      God great there are people here with the cognitive chops to have a productive conversation on this topic.

    • johnbuzz3

      I’m sensing you’d prefer a threshold theory, one in which intelligence is a walled territory of dynamics that starts at a particular quantity or quality of behavior. Usually when people subscribe to threshold definitions of intelligence who’s boundaries are near or equal to human measures.

  14. TonyHor

    There are many facts not explained here (hope you can post them) that allows a team to achieve a democratic responsibility distribution. As a manager, I realize the sabotage in staff’s many dimentions: culture, habits, skills, maturity, unconsciousness, etc.

    • Oscar2

      Democratic responsibility? Meaning who? Politicians or people? Do not wait for politicians

  15. JohnE3

    Listen more. Beyond awareness of different social styles, it’s important to really listen and to try to see things from the other person’s point of view. If you can’t, ask more questions. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next. It seems so simple, but it took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t always doing this.

    • Norbert Biedrzycki  

      Great hint. Thank you for sharing

      • Check Batin

        Now can we talk about what “intelligence” means? Intelligence too is a cline, not a bounded category. Every structure is intelligent in that it predicts (causes) some futures more than it predicts (causes) other futures. Now that we have a deffiniton of intelligence and one that is not domain or scale dependent, and one that is also parameterized by a gates and wires network theory of computation, we can ask practical questions such as “How does one build the most efficient and powerful intelligent…

  16. DDonovan

    I liked the human analogy. I really fell that being able to become that hub where knowledge flows through inside the company is the main job of every leader.

    I am currently running a survey about the challenges we as technical leaders are now facing. Would be really nice to have your thoughts on that…

    Survey: What’s your biggest frustration or challenge being a technical leader?

    • Simon GEE

      Currently being an organization leader can be fascinating and difficult at the same time. Authorities in a rapidly changing reality are not easy, and the power of a person at the head of a company is certainly not given once and for all.

      • TomaszK1

        Very valid point. We are lacking leaders. We have managers

        • Adam Spikey

          your brain could have the very same function with if else expression.

  17. TommyG

    Engineering discussions are often heated affairs, and in a larger corporate environment, there’s a real temptation to insist that your voice is heard and your intelligence noted. So people talk over each other and interrupt without thinking. This tendency is especially destructive if you’re the leader talking over your team. It’s not about you.

      • Tesla29

        Thin about Leadership responsibility towards AI. Robotic process automation covering more and more rules based tasks is inevitable and you are right that it may bring unexpected side effects like creating more jobs or increasing creativity of those released from boring tasks ..:)

        • Oscar2

          Taking into consideration that AI solutions (ie neural networks, genetic algorithms, machine learning, etc.) can be represented using computer programs (written in C, Java, etc.). Computer programs to be started on the computer have to be translated to the machine code where the main control instructions are simple conditional instructions and jump instructions, so we can say that “AI is nothing but a bunch of “if…else” statements”… 🙂

    • Check Batin

      Linking the brain to a cloud for common access to the intellectual achievements of all people will long remain unfeasible. One cannot be sure of being on track to “meta-intelligence”

    • TomHarber

      The points mentioned are great.. especially the last one around ‘cant go alone’. Its going to be the next toughest thing, after accepting to live with ambiguity, for businesses of today transforming into the businesses of future.

    • TomHarber

      Nicely articulated. The points mentioned are great.. especially the last one around ‘cant go alone’. Its going to be the next toughest thing, after accepting to live with ambiguity, for businesses of today transforming into the businesses of future.

      • Oscar2

        we talk about people. Right. But let’s be honest. Or besides saying that the employee is the most important thing we do with it? Where are the leaders?

  18. And99rew

    Is it true that no matter how competent a manager is, his leadership skills can not develop if he lacks the ability to visualize goals and create value in action? Are managers striving to implement narrowly defined tasks, deprived of a sufficiently large dose of imagination and communication skills, do not sometimes cause conflicts within the group, instead of leading them to higher goals and intentions?

    • ZoraBora

      Conflicts when properly managed are constructive