Today’s advances in technology are undoubtedly shaping every aspect of our lives, including the way we lead and manage teams. What are the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for tech and other industry leaders? And what are the must-have skills to be able to lead successfully in a data-driven world? In this article, we explore the impact of technology on leadership and delve into the steps each leader should initiate to be able to wield tech for their own good.

Embrace and understand

In recent years, leaders have had to get used to, and prioritise, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and automation. And with any new invention comes the need to make even more decisions as a leader. How can this piece of tech help steer my organisation in new directions? What are the potential pitfalls? Without the knowledge, risk assessment skills, and confidence to make such decisions, leaders will find it very difficult to navigate the fast-accelerating world of tech.

According to Forbes Magazine, the first steps for decision makers should be to embrace technology and understand their customers’ needs. By staying on top of the latest innovations and recognising their customers’ requirements, leaders will be able to build a solid base for further tech exploration.

International business schools have taken it upon themselves to address these questions in their management and leadership programmes. Tom Lawrance explained in a recent interview that, according to his own experience, “around one third of the people looking to apply to business school are doing so because they want to transition into the tech industry”. As a former MBA recruiter at Amazon and former Head of Global Industry Careers at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School (UK), he has seen first-hand the value of MBA-taught skills such as data analysis and leadership and communication in tech roles.

Analyse and anticipate

Data-driven insights and real-time analytics are essential in facilitating this journey further and speeding up decision-making. On top of that, leaders must be prepared to anticipate and manage the various challenges that may arise with new technologies. Risks such as data breaches and system failures are a very real part of working with almost any type of technology and when you add personal data to the equation, it becomes even trickier.

Every company is now a technology company in some capacity, and the commercialisation of emerging technologies like AI, quantum computing, and virtual reality is happening faster than developers can anticipate unintended and potentially harmful consequences of misuse,” Beena Ammanath, Executive Director of the Global AI Institute at Deloitte, told Fast Company.

Organisations should also be prepared to manage their team’s expectations and reactions to technological changes. A 2023 Deloitte study on transformational technology leadership outlined “change agents” among the top five leadership competencies. “Tech leaders with this competency are experts at instigating, managing, and delivering large complex digital transformations across the enterprise. They deliver value by transforming business processes, employee and customer experiences, and/or business operations,” according to Deloitte.

Balance and nurture

As much as it requires technical know-how and business savviness, success in digital innovation depends on another key factor: human connection. “Most people move up the ranks by being stellar individual contributors but may not have a broad view of organisations and the systems that make them run. This is especially true in tech, where the technical skills that make you successful become less critical as you take on more responsibility,highlights Jo-Ellen Pozner, Faculty Director of the Executive MBA at Santa Clara’s Leavey School of Business (US).

Leaders need to be able to inspire, collaborate with, and build loyalty between diverse teams. Empathy and emotional intelligence are not just buzzwords when it comes to fostering a supportive workplace culture. Deloitte’s latest research confirms this: between 41% and 54% of tech executives believe non-technical skills such as leadership and relationship skills will be more important than tech expertise. Hence it’s no surprise that soft skills training, communication, and collaboration take centre stage in MBA curricula and career coaching.

Seek ethical leadership

Ethical considerations when it comes to artificial intelligence or data collection also require a fine balancing act from C-level executives. Establishing responsible and transparent digital leadership practices should be a top priority just as much as any other business objective.

Business schools, too, bear the crucial responsibility of raising awareness on the ethical implications of tech. Maastricht School of Management (the Netherlands) addresses the topic as part of the Executive MBA programme’s Digital Management module. Ahlem Chanteloup Slama, Maastricht EMBA graduate, says the module made her “reflect on the responsibility and impact of the data analysis process”. 

My takeaway is that it’s important to work on Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) from the beginning of a project in order to tackle the risks and to create the opportunity to make a difference,” she adds.

It is clear that leadership is undergoing a profound transformation. Embracing the digital frontier requires a blend of technical acumen, adaptability, and a deep understanding of human dynamics. The leaders of today (and tomorrow) must navigate this complex landscape with a commitment to upholding the fundamental values that make for effective and ethical leadership in the digital age.