There are multiple qualities that make for a good leader. Listening, self-awareness, and a lack of ego are some of my favorite attributes. Those who lead don’t have to be loud or brash or even always right. Leadership is a nuanced path.
When it comes to digital leadership, this is where a lot of highly respected leaders don’t always make the leap from brick-and-mortar spaces to digital environs. For 13 years, I have worked in higher education. My career has always been focused around the intersections of technology, communications, and organizational dynamics. Since 2002, I have come to the realization that digital leadership requires three elements in order to be successful: experimentation, learning, and bravery.
Experimentation is something that we all have done. As children, we have built imaginary worlds, constructed sand castles, and gotten our hands dirty doing all sorts of wonderfully playful things. Kids experiment as a means of learning new things. When we get to a place in our lives where we identify as adults, some of us lose that spirit of play. Our experimental sandboxes are cast aside as we seek order and routine. To be a successful digital leader means that you’ll always be experimenting. A sense of wonder, trial-and-error, and joy at not always knowing something is required to be a leader in digital spaces. Not knowing things as a leader is okay. However, being open to experimenting AND making time to do it is crucial to figuring out how to be better at your job and to lead those who look to you for guidance and wisdom.
Lifelong learning is the only way to truly live. If you’re working in higher education, you’re probably instilling the concept of lifelong learning into your students. The journey of learning is a constant. In digital spaces, the climb towards the top of our technology-mountains is an infinite path. Plus, a willingness to learn new things is how leaders role model a way of being that can send positive ripples through an organizations culture. What you learn today will evolve tomorrow as you add layers of new information that guide your decisions, plans, and strategies. You will always be better off in the future if you keep an open mind to learning new things today.
Fear is a tricky thing. It keeps us in a fixed position. Our ability to learn and experiment is often connected to our internal sense of bravery. Being brave doesn’t mean that we’re loud or arrogant. It’s a sense of inner strength that says that it’s okay to not know how a technology works or to be aware of a lack of awareness of all of the latest social media apps. However, bravery makes us secure in the knowledge that we can always go back to our digital sandbox and learn new things.
Digital leaders manifest in myriad ways. They are almost always quietly brave, instilled with a spirit of lifelong learning, and engaged in ongoing experiments.
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