Bold IT leadership is crucial, but difficult to find

The 2016 Deloitte Business Confidence Report highlights the necessity of bold leadership in a digital era, but reports that it's difficult for companies to find.

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U.S. President Barack Obama joins a toast with technology business leaders at a dinner in Woodside, Calif. Among those attending were the late Steve Jobs, to the President's left, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to the President's right. Credit: Pete Souza/White House

Bold leadership is essential for companies to achieve breakthrough performance, but according to the 2016 Deloitte Business Confidence Report, 90 percent of the 600 C-suite executives (CXOs) and C-suite executives-in-waiting (CXOWs) admit to not regularly demonstrating bold leadership.

Deloitte uses six characteristics to assess bold leadership: someone who sets ambitious goals; invites feedback from colleagues at all levels of seniority; innovates and looks for new ways of doing things; proposes ideas their company might consider controversial; takes risks; and builds strong teams and empowers them to succeed. Further, 52 percent of CXOWs and 60 percent of CXOs doubt that there are enough bold leaders at the highest ranks in their company.

Bold leadership is an imperative for companies across all industries both to successfully navigate digital transformation and to further innovation, says Josh Bersin, principal at Deloitte and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, a research and advisory services firm. Today's businesses need leadership that can combine innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking with a more practical focus on business operations, profit and growth, but it's a major challenge, he says.

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Disrupted by digital

"Every single business is being disrupted by digital transformation, and every new innovation requires a certain amount of reinvention. In technology, many companies start out being incredibly innovative and cutting-edge, but get bogged down with operational issues like sales, marketing, scale, globalization. In other industries, many CXOs and CXOWs are frustrated by the inability to innovate. It's very rare to find leadership that can do both," Bersin says.

Even if organizations manage to find bold leadership, the fact is that business priorities and strategic initiatives change so quickly that it's hard to sustain leaders' impact and maintain success in all these leadership areas, Bersin says.

"We have developed a leadership model that essentially boils down certain skills, characteristics and capabilities of great organization leaders. Things like building skills and talent, collaboration, influencing others, business execution, inspiration and direction. But we find that there are certain times in every business, cycles of vision and inspiration and then cycles of execution and delivery, where some of those qualities are needed -- and are prioritized -- more than others; it's not unusual to see leaders who are good at one aspect of these cycles and not the other. It's not that they're a bad leader, it's just they're in the 'wrong' cycle at the 'wrong' time," Bersin says.

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Pipeline problem

There's also a dearth of leadership development at the low and mid-levels of companies; most leadership training, development and growth opportunities are focused at the top levels, leaving little room for a pipeline, Bersin says.

According to the research, 52 percent of CXOs and 61 percent of CXOWs believe they may not have enough bold leaders in the higher ranks of their company. And the pool of future bold leadership also appears less-than-adequate, as only 44 percent of CXOs and 36 percent of CXOWs say their rising executives demonstrate bold leadership most of the time. When it comes to recruiting, too, 54 percent of CXOs and 67 percent of CXOWs say they are not emphasizing bold leadership skills in recruitment.

"Part of bold leadership is understanding that you learn many of these skills by doing. You have to take some risks and encourage people to take on leadership roles and responsibilities, sometimes before they believe they're ready. That means assessing them for potential, and then giving them on-the-job training, coaching and support to create the leadership you need so you don't have this pipeline problem," Bersin says.

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This story, "Bold IT leadership is crucial, but difficult to find" was originally published by CIO.

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