How knowledge and humility is the key to a successfully disruptive leader


Blog piece 28 June - iStock-537618232

By Stephen Scheeler, Former CEO ANZ, Facebook; Founder, The Digital CEO and Chairperson, CEBIT Australia

Now more than ever businesses are universally feeling the need to be disruptive – to create new market and value networks that eventually disrupt existing networks – and to be transformative – so they can fundamentally change systems, processes, people and technology across a business, to achieve measurable improvements.

It sounds good in theory, but the reality is many businesses will fail at this and won’t develop the kind of digital presence to really shake things up. Why? Because many company leaders simply don’t possess the skills needed to guide their companies to the next level.

Historically, businesses have always had to cope with new challenges and market forces. In the modern age, much of this is driven by technology and new ways of doing business.

However, a recent study by DXC Technology estimated that 70 per cent of Australian CEO’s are digitally illiterate. Whilst the pace of business may be speeding forth regardless, the fact is many leaders can’t actually speak the language of what’s going on and aren’t sure how to rapidly acquire the necessary knowledge.

This is really no surprise given that for many top performing companies, the model of leadership is still pretty much ingrained, with the CEO at the top of the tree the smartest (or loudest) person in the room. However, in the age of disruption, a CEO admitting that they may not know all the answers, or are feeling somewhat overwhelmed with the pace, may actually be infinitely more beneficial.

The reality is, for any company ingrained in digital culture, the ability to learn is one of the key attributes of a successful leader. At my old workplace of Facebook in Silicon Valley, one of the biggest things we were good at doing was building a learning culture. This required egos to be dropped, admitting when you needed help with something, and reaching out to learn and develop further. Yes, it was confronting at times, requiring a lot of humility and curiosity, however it was a necessary part of growing the business and taking ideas to the next level.

To become truly digitally successful, you of course need a certain level of technical awareness, but it’s not simply a case of understanding what Blockchain or A.I. is about. You also need to have the right mindset to constantly learn and push the boundaries of what technology can do for business – because those organisations that can learn and adapt the fastest will be the winners of the future.