Digital transformation has changed how we communicate with our customers, colleagues, and friends. The digital age demands a new kind of communications leader.
In my career, I have been truly fortunate to meet some of the world’s best leaders. Although unique in how they leverage digital in business, they share common traits as great leaders.
There’s science in the art of communication.
Communicating effectively is both a science and an art.
The science of communication has led to an explosion of data. We’ve been able to experiment with this data, learning what to do and what not to do, and ultimately create new formulas. We now have templates for copywriting, best practices for Facebook ads and rules for great web design, to name a few.
The artistry is the innovation that comes when we offer up something new and unique. Great communications leaders live and breathe data — it’s the fuel behind every decision. Their scientific approach means that they are armed with knowledge. They rely on more than just digital tactics; they see the artistry behind an omnichannel approach that balances all appropriate marketing tactics.
Increasingly, colleagues and consumers alike are seeking authenticity from leaders and brands. In our digital world, it’s easier than ever to communicate. The art comes from learning how to leverage new tools to deliver an authentic, unique experience. Automation is a science; authenticity is an art.
This blend of artist and scientist can also be seen in how great leaders build and manage their teams. They understand the formula for building a great team, balancing its strengths and weaknesses. They also use data to experiment with different training and motivation techniques. At the same time, they manage a group of individuals with different needs to create a team that functions effectively and efficiently as one unit, while still promoting the needs of each individual. That is an art.
They know what they stand for.
As the expression goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”
Out of all my encounters with great leaders, one key characteristic has always stood out to me: integrity. Every leader has stood for something, mirroring the traits of the brand they represent.
Integrity is even seen in how these leaders talk to their colleagues and industry peers. Having conviction in your message is key. Leaders create and maintain the characteristics of their brand, which builds confidence among customers and colleagues.
Great leaders also have the integrity to back new ideas and innovations, through the highs and lows, through praise and criticism. It’s easy to give up when something fails. It’s harder to push through the hurdles.
They see failure as a stepping stone.
Great leaders don’t fear failure. Thomas Edison did not fail to make a light bulb the first 10,000 times; he found 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb.
We have all failed, be it an epic public embarrassment or your social media competition getting a grand total of six entries. A great leader learns from failure. Most importantly, they encourage their team to do the same. Extract every ounce of data, experiment with it and learn what not to do next time.
A bad leader only sees the negatives and casts blame. Whether they’re sending an angry email or holding a team meeting where everyone comes out deflated, they cannot look past mistakes or failure. In fact, they cannot distinguish between the two.
They are both mentor and mentee.
Leaders constantly learn and seek learning opportunities. The best leaders have the integrity, to be honest about their own weaknesses and are not afraid to be taught by others, even those in junior positions.
In the world of digital transformation, simply hiring digitally native millennials or Gen Zers to leverage new technology is not enough.
In an interview with my company, Sarah Robb O’Hagan of Flywheel Sports said, “If you can’t understand the fundamentals of how these new technologies enable your business to grow, how can you make the right decisions?”
The best communications leaders are not afraid to step out of their comfort zones. They relish opportunities to learn from others, not just to teach — to mentor and to be mentored.
They are human.
Great leaders remember that they are human and so are their staff. They create working environments that enable open and honest communication, making their employees feel valued and respected.
A recent viral example of this: Madalyn Parker, a web developer, sent an email to her colleagues to explain that she was taking a couple of days off to focus on her mental health. Her CEO Ben Congleton replied, “You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”
Being human in business is often forgotten. The new digital leader is human and communicates like a human.
They are followed.
Ultimately, the new digitally savvy communications leader is someone you want to follow.