Why Every Revolution Requires Revolutionary Leadership

Jun 9, 2021

Consider that just a short quin-centenary ago, the world was introduced to the printing press — a novel invention that drastically changed accessibility to knowledge for the ordinary individual. Five hundred years later, we are experiencing the effects of another profound change that rivals the printing press’s seismic shift — the digital revolution. A revolution that requires revolutionary leadership. 

Beginning with the advent of telecommunications to advanced analytics to today’s hyper-sonic digital communications, the ability to transmit data across vast distances has changed every aspect of daily life.

When humble goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg threw the switch on his printing press in 1440, the revolution began. Suddenly, the world could benefit from a single printing press producing 3,600 pages of printed text each day. In a moment, the way the world operated, consumed, and purchased content would never be the same.

And I would argue, revolutions rarely — if ever — go backward. Nor are the changes uniform nor linear.

To capture the moment and seize a competitive edge amid the constantly shifting digital landscape, you must understand the unchanging leadership principles and apply those in today’s digital marketplace. The ability to pivot and adapt at a moment’s notice to changes, and have the foresight to comprehend the effects of technology on your world is vital to maintaining a competitive edge.

The Unchanging Role Of Revolutionary Leadership in the Digital World

While the environment in which leaders work and live is exponentially changing, I believe the traits and characteristics that make a strong leader remain mostly unchanged. Consider the immense transformation unleashed by the printing press, which at that time altered the knowledge revolution in profound and unalterable ways — unlocking the modern age.

Man Operating Printing Press

Through the printing press invention, political leaders in Italian city-states like Florence and Rome were able to revive the Ancient Roman educational system. And it allowed the German religious reformer, Martin Luther, to become the world’s first best-selling author because the timing of Luther’s crusade and his message’s power coincided with an explosion of printing presses across Europe.

It brought about fundamental changes in how leaders were able to lead but not their role.

Since those times, an effective leader’s responsibilities are becoming steadily more difficult in a fast-moving world with increasingly higher demands. As we go further into the digital and data revolutions, it requires us to adapt and shed the weight of ineffective leadership methods that cannot keep up with our changing world. We must get back to our base definition of leadership.

A leader’s calling is to bring to life the potential and expand what is possible of those in their sphere of influence with a single goal: to achieve remarkable results.

It is easy to believe that the “digital world” is focused solely on today’s technical and data transformations. However, while artificial intelligence increasingly changes how we interact, this brave new world is still a world of people. Similar to the printing press which introduced the world to the idea of machines “stealing jobs” from workers. Five hundred years later, the world still needs human laborers.

As long as humans remain in the equation, leadership will continue being about people — even when what they do day-to-day changes.

This adaptation is becoming increasingly important as governments and enterprises lean more heavily on AI-driven solutions and robotics. As the definition of “work” changes drastically, the digital leader must stay ahead of the needs and expectations of those they lead.

I believe that with the current world evolution, transformational leadership is more paramount than ever.

  • It requires a higher echelon of modeling effective behaviors and developing high-performance teams that thrive on unity and trust.
  • It necessitates driving excellence for organizations to be their very best — not only for the good of the goal but also for one another.
  • It forces leaders to exude humble confidence while encouraging others to step into their greatness.

In essence — if an individual effectively leads themselves and others to achieve mastery in their craft and bring positive change to those they influence, they are leaders.

Taking the Lead In A Future Printing Press Culture

The introduction of fast-paced, always-connected digital communications leads to what cultural anthropologists are referring to as the Digital Revolution. Global cultures themselves are drastically changing to adapt to new technologies and work methods. Consumers are moving from brick-and-mortar shopping to online eCommerce. A friend sitting in the next room is no further away than a coworker across the globe. Our smartphones allow us to be always on, no matter where we are.

“There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril,” Klaus Schwab.

The Digital Revolution requires a new leadership revolution. Are you ready to step up to the challenge ahead and become the leader that the Fourth Industrial Revolution needs you to become?

You Must Be A Passion Struck Revolutionary Leader

The first leadership skill you must master is boldness in the face of change. Courage will forever be a leader’s greatest asset and their secret weapon against a variety of obstacles.

The years since the start of the Digital Revolution have seen cataclysmic events unfold. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The financial crash of 2008. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. While each of these world-changing events has occurred, the digital world has continued to grow, adapt, and even thrive. The leaders who came out on the other side of these events more influential were those who stood their ground with bold courage and steered their ship through the storm, knowing that calmer seas would come just past the horizon.

A passion-struck leader guides others with transparency, integrity, and strength built upon their values and mission. As the world heads online and fewer teams or customers engage with leaders in-person, the ability to showcase these traits becomes even more vital.

Take chances and get risky with your passion. A great example of this comes from the start-up world. This arena provides meaningful lessons from leaders once viewed as crazy for their grandiose visions of the future. Their critics are now the ones now purchasing their products and applying to work at their companies. To put this in perspective, a 2018 report by UBS found billionaire start-up leaders are responsible for almost 80 percent of the 40 main breakthrough innovations over the past four decades.

In the digital world, passion is the new currency.

You Must Embrace Simplicity

The digital revolution is leading to increasingly complex situations. Everything from global markets to how we engage on social media is becoming inundated with algorithms that seek to learn and guide our digital experience. For the digital leader to lead well, they must learn how to adapt to changes and engage new opportunities with a sense of wise simplicity.

Take note: This does not mean deleting your accounts and throwing away your cell phone. Instead, cultivating simplicity allows you to see the bigger picture amid the details. By taking a broader view of the digital landscape, you will find new and competitive ways to excel in niche markets or opportunities.

Simplicity can do wonders for teams. A leader who embraces and communicates their basic leadership principles can help keep team members calm and collected — even as their world changes each day. By understanding your values, mission, and foundational leadership ethics, you can engage with the digital landscape with eyes wide open and unsurprised.

You Must Crave Speed

The times, they are a-changing’… and they are changing quickly. The global pandemic of 2020 has shown how major disruption events can force industry and culture evolution in a few weeks to months.

From my direct experience as a Fortune 50 digital leader, software CEO, and start-up board director, the rate at which change occurs cannot scare you away from making bold decisions.

Leaders must crave to excel in a fast-paced culture and marketplace to excel in the digital world. Often, circumstances outside of your control will force you to step into the unknown and choose a direction. New and more dramatic challenges will face you. And the speed in which you will need to adopt new and creative ways of doing business requires greater adaptability than ever before.

You will need to cultivate a mindset that rides the wave of change and enjoys the journey. The last thing an organization needs from a leader is to witness their fear of the speed of changes. By showing a relaxed, calm demeanor during the adoption and implementation of new digital protocols, you can lead others to be bold themselves.

You Are The Revolutionary Leader You Need To Be

The digital world provides an incredible opportunity for leaders willing to devote themselves to adapting to changes with courage.

  • Be passion struck,
  • Stay simple,
  • Respond quickly,
  • Deliver even faster.

To be the best digital leader you can be, stay on your toes, and continuously look for ways to innovate and work with what lies ahead of you. The future is undoubtedly muddy for many leaders today, but those who will thrive are the ones who can grab the future by the horns and make it work for them.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Entrepreneur’s Handbook.

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