Leadership in the Digital Age

Read the first of our four reports from his year's Next Generation of Female Leaders Program. This week's report from the Eleanor Harding Syndicate looked at 'Leadership in the Digital Age'. The report is based on indepth interviews with key industry leaders and their own academic and social research.

Eleanor Harding Syndicate

Pictured: L-R: Lidia Jukic, Cassandra Strakosch, Ann Wooldridge, Diana Fear, Gillian Mcfee (syndicate mentor) and Melissa Robbins


This study probed into whether the Digital Age calls for new leadership styles for leaders to connect with colleagues, clients and communities.


This Sydney based syndicate undertook qualitative interviews with eighteen influential leaders across a range of sectors including:
  • The Hon Mark Coulton, Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government. Assistant Trade and Investment Minister
  • James Baum, CEO Aon Australia
  • Catherine Baxter, COO, Metro Trains
  • Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO ACOSS + more

Study objectives

  • Understand the extent of the impact of the digital revolution on industries and organisations;
  • Gain insights into how the digital revolution has impacted, influenced or re-shaped leadership styles; and
  • Explore what mindsets, behaviours and actions leaders need to adopt to bring their stakeholders on the digitisation journey and how they are navigating challenges.

5 Key Insights 

The syndicate deliberately sought to interview leaders across sectors and industries reflecting their own diversity in industries. What emerged was more commonalities than differences, in that leaders were viewing the digital age as an opportunity that could be “seized and moulded” to best fit their organisations, customers and workplaces.

Here’s their top five key insights:

1. The digital revolution is here and now
The digital revolution is impacting every industry, community and workplace. This means change is rapid. To capture the hearts and minds of their people, leaders need to be inclusive and put people first.

“Leadership in the digital age is not about the technology, but how you lead your people through the changes and adapt as required.” —Catherine Baxter, COO, Metro Trains.

2. We need to include all Australians for the digital revolution to work
Not all Australians are currently benefiting from the digital revolution, with many at risk of being left behind. This includes people in rural and regional areas, with disabilities, indigenous Australians, and those with low levels of incomes, education and employment.

Leaders need to understand how the digital revolution impacts their workforce and communities and develop strategies to manage change.

3. Breaking through the noise of the digital age - leaders are connecting with their stakeholders in new ways
The interviews showed that there is a disparity between organisations understanding, seeing and taking digital age opportunities. And there’s a generational divide in how leaders are meeting the challenges of digital disruption.

To be successful leaders in the digital age need to understand how to build teams, keep people connected, drive a culture of innovation and continual improvement.

Above-all they need to be willing to take risks to connect with customers, colleagues and communities through this time of change.

“The digital revolution is a world full of dashboards in a world of unlimited information, but we need to navigate what is relevant.”—Todd Saunders, Executive GM, Sanitarium.

4. The case for adaptive leadership 
Adaptive leadership is a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organisations to adapt to changing environments and effectively respond to recurring problems.

To inspire and grow organisations in the digital age, leaders should consider shifting towards adaptive leadership to provide for more empowerment.

“The disruption brought by the digital age may not be revolutionary but evolutionary. You need to constantly be on guard, more agile, fail-fast and able to take on risk and make mistakes and fix mistakes fast.”
—Bill Hooper, CFO COO, Aon APA

5. Leading authentically through the digital age
To be yourself as a leader is to know and live your values, have a vision, believe in what you are working towards, and demonstrate integrity in your decision making.

Leading authentically is seen as an enabler to bring a team with you on a journey and build trust through rapid changes.

For the interviewees, this human approach to leadership included bringing concepts such as equality, empowerment, flexibility and diversity into the community they lead.

More on our Next Gen 2019 Graduates
Read about Next Gen's 2020 Reinvention
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