The Global Challenges of our Times – Digital Connectivity


In a digital age people still matter and connecting well to those that you lead certainly matters

A post by Jacqueline Bagnall

Even with the computing power to analyse huge datasets and the big data world of companies such as IBM, there is still the need for the human sense maker. The human ability to ask questions and make sense of the results, spotting inconsistencies and better defining the question at the core of the analysis.  As automation takes hold and we see the diminished need for low skilled manual labour, this calls for a better understanding of how the human mind can add value to the organisation. What is it that creates the difference between competing organisations when the slick precision of a wholly automated function delivers product perfection?

As tempting as it is to believe that the digital transformations shaping the business landscape require all leaders to focus on technological skills, the truth is that we need leaders with people skills as much as ever.  Moving beyond the predictability of algorithms and coding to the messy interactions created by emotional, creative, irrational humanbeings requires leaders able to connect, empathise and relate well to others.

It would be a mistake to think that in an increasingly digital landscape the need to relate well to others is reduced, in fact we would argue the opposite, that the skills and qualities needed for this digital world centre on an ability to relate well to others. It is quality communication that  ensures the flow of knowledge and innovation around a global system. The collaboration and connectivity needed to work across globally located teams  means that those tasked with leading such diverse teams require the moral imagination to anticipate communication issues that may arise.

In our recent global talent event  we spent two days exploring ‘leading in a global context’, where business leaders shared their insights on how global operations need local knoweldge. Across the six sessions the leaders repeated the same message, those that lead effectively have an ability to relate well to people who are different to them. It is the art of connecting that is key in this complex employment landscape and diversity comes from many angles not just gender and ethnicity. For too long we have seen leadership delivered as a mirror image of those leading, using one biased approach to manage all. Such an approach results in exclusion, isolation and frustration and we would argue that the time to move the mirror aside and look beyond one’s own image is upon us. This was eloquently argued by Julia Middleton, CEO of Common Purpose who took us through her work on cultural intellgence. She explained the important relational process of ‘core’ and ‘flex’ where from a place of flex we can meet the perspective of another, those holding differing core values or beliefs to ourseves.

It is from a place of leading with cultural intelligence that we can better build the capacity and talent of our organisations. This ability to flex and adapt is a key part of the resilience needed to sustain in the face of uncertain global challenges. We cannot separate the mind-set and aspirations of those employed from the way in which they are managed. Leaders are tasked with engaging their workforce in a way that brings out the very best in them, they need to take responsibility for creating the conditions in which a diverse talent pool are able to thrive.

The ability to persist, recover and thrive (Zolli and Healy 2012) in this landscape requires a better understanding of the regenerative capacity of people and the human systems in which they work.  No longer can organisations rest on their laurels, repeating the HR practices that have served them for several decades. Taking time to understand the wider global context and the value of a vibrant learning culture ensures that human talent is engaged, confident, and able to adapt to such change.

Our increased understanding of the generations coming up through the ranks since the start of this century,  shows us that bright young minds want a deeper sense of purpose in their work. They have seen their parent’s burnout, they have experienced parents give away quality family time for their careers and they crave something more. We are coming to understand just how important that elusive work life balance is for the emerging talent pool.  They seek recognition and acknowledgement for their unique contribution, the ‘selfie’ generation that wants to be front and centre when credit is due.

Undoubtedly there are implications for the reward and recognition schemes currently in place if we are to give bright and committed employees the opportunity to design and implement new business models, allowing them to invest their creative energies in solving problems and connect to a deeper purpose within their work.

Leading Self and others is a core part of the OPMBA Personal Transformations module.

A two part post by Prof Nicolas Forsans and Jackie Bagnall

Business and society are facing unprecedented challenges that will shape the 21st Century. Economic, societal, environmental and technological challenges are impacting business and with this complexity the expectations placed onto aspiring leaders are changing.

In this two-part series Professor Nicolas Forsans, Director One Planet MBA programmes and Jackie Bagnall, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Studies and Leadership highlight the significance of those challenges, their implications for leadership and on business models and strategies to thrive in a complex world.



Zolli, A and Healy, A. (2012) Resilience. Headline Publishing. London

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