This blog is about the digital business era. The blog posts are brief, foods for thought. They comment on articles, events etc. with a personal touch.

The Digital Pentathlete

The business executives that successfully lead their companies into the digital business era will become the rock stars of the Digital Business Era. It is once again time to “Wake up and smell the Coffee.” There is a second chance to exploit the web, when industries go digital.
This linkedin blog started as a quest for the core disciplines that build future digital leaders. During this summer's "walkabout", I wrapped up my ideas about the future digital leader, the Digital Pentathlete.

A first major step in the digital transformation of an enterprise is to onboard enough digital leaders. It will give the enterprise access to the capabilities, leadership, work horsepower and fierce drive it will take to become successful. But what should these digital executives be good at? How can they make the company’s digital entry and growth successful?

Digital executives must master a distinct set of capabilities related to digital business. The list includes innovation, digital strategy, portfolio management, change management, digital architecture, project and program management, personal and team development, stakeholder management, planning, monitoring and control of the digital value chain activities, etc. When mastering these capabilities, they will be able to plant, grow, guide, monitor and support the digital teams within the enterprise successfully.

The ”One-trick pony”

A key challenge in many enterprises is the one-trick pony challenge. Many leaders are one-trick ponies in the sense that they base their whole career on single-discipline strength. These leaders are specialists in one or two types of strategies, e.g. turn-around, merger, right-sizing, etc. Throughout their nomadic careers, they constantly look for companies with problems they know how to solve. When they have fixed the problem, they move on.

But as companies and industry sectors progress through various stages of maturity, their strategic requirements change, too. The one-trick ponies often exit and give space to successors with different skillsets. While this is valuable enough, each time they leave, they break the company’s productivity continuum.

Digital executives must excel in the core disciplines of digital leadership; the more versatile a leader is, the more impact, effectiveness and direction he or she can provide to the enterprise. Versatility leads to longevity, higher impact and ultimately better strategy execution. Versatility leads to a less nomadic, more planned career for successful digital executives. (Needless to say, the underpinning assumption is that you acquired the right talent from the start).

Introducing the Digital Pentathlete

The digital leader has multiple functional responsibilities. He should have the strength, breadth and depth to lead the digital ventures of his company through the evolutionary stages of digital business, without suffering from the “one-trick pony” syndrome, thus maintaining the productivity continuum at the high-ground level.

The initial research of this article discovered a number of distinct capabilities which I consider essential to digital leadership, and the subsequent analysis resulted in 5 different capability clusters. The multi-discipline requirements of digital executives resembles those of an Olympic Pentathlete:
In sports, a Pentathlete is a versatile athlete, one that masters five very different disciplines; fencing, swimming, riding, shooting and running. To become a winner, single-discipline superiority is not the best strategy. An all-round person, equally strong in all disciplines, stands a much better chance.
The unified role of digital leadership is called the Digital Pentathlete. The 5 core disciplines of the Digital Pentathlete are Digital Innovation, Digital Transformation, Digital Leadership, Digital Relations and Digital Management, as illustrated in the Pentagon below:

The five core disciplines of digital leadership are explained briefly below:
  • The Digital Innovation Discipline. This discipline is capable of creating, deciding and planning digital strategic activities. Innovation Portfolio Management is the life-cycle support role.
  • The Digital Transformer Discipline. The discipline is capable of driving the changes of the digital value chain; people, processes and digital enablement.
  • The Digital Leadership Discipline. The discipline consists of personal leadership, people and organization development and the creation of effective leadership teams.
  • The Digital Relationship Discipline. The discipline is capable of personal relationships, account management, governance, alignment and public relations.
  • The Digital Management Discipline. The role is capable of organizing and planning the work of the digital value chain, including processes, roles, staff, vendors, and all other aspects.

The digital leadership roles are changing fast these years. Old, battle-worn executives find themselves disrupted by by fresh, young managers coming from new and surprising directions. The digital leadership roles are up for grabs and claimed by people with different skillsets and different focus.

For people with a deep interest in digital business, the new leadership roles are highly exciting. They hold promises of extreme value creation to shareholders, giving much credit to successful digital executives.
A key goal is to give you inspiration on how to deal with the digital business era. Another goal is to get feedback on ideas and thoughts. Have a great digital business era!
Confucius – you cannot open a book without learning something - /jan