Mayvin_ Digital Leader

Become a Digital Leader: five top tips for confronting your anxiety about change

Guest blogger Pete Burden invites you to face up to the discomfort of newness and change by taking some simple, powerful steps to becoming a truly digital leader.

There are many definitions of what it means to become more ‘digital’ as an organisation or to be a digital leader. Many lists, models and theories. I tend to boil it down to a situation where everyone – junior and senior, leaders and staff alike – is being digital: becoming more experimental, more participative, more purposeful and more open.

At Mayvin’s Digital Leadership event earlier this year, it was clear that this change of mindset – of recognising that everyone is responsible for being digital, not just the IT department or a new Head of Digital – is core to making the ‘shift’ to digital as a leader and as an organsisation.

Changing mindset is something that as OD&D professionals we should be well aware of.

We are also very aware that often underlying the difficulty of changing mindset is anxiety.

In that ’we’ I include myself, and my own anxiety. My own reaction to anything new or different is usually anxiety. Digital is always ‘new’, because even if you are ‘digitally-minded’ and relatively on top of it, it is always changing, and changing at a very rapid rate.

Of course, we have many strategies as individuals and in groups to avoid facing our anxiety. Common strategies include rationalising, arguing, getting outraged, blaming other people or diagnosing them, telling other people what to do or think, comforting or distracting ourselves, or denying something is happening at all!

Perhaps some of these are familiar to you?

  • When colleagues speak about ‘agile’ work practices do you ever find yourself telling yourself it is all a fad?
  • When an invitation to use a new social networking platform drops into your inbox do you suddenly remember that you’ve got some real work to do?
  • When someone talks to you about the benefits of driverless cars do you argue back and point out the perils of trusting an AI to drive, and how much more dangerous it will be?
  • When your IT people want to ‘upgrade you’ do you secretly write them off as nerds or geeks, or ‘demonise’ them in some other way – as opposed to meeting them as people?
  • Do you find yourself wishing someone would just ‘take charge’ of a project when there is some disagreement or controversy?

 

If any of the above strike a chord, then I have some suggestions for things to try:

  1. Take part in a webinar or go on a training course about agile work practices or big data or AI. See what you can learn.
  2. Join a collaborative community like OpenStreetMap or Wikipedia and make a contribution – don’t just consume, produce collaboratively!
  3. Talk to an IT person, or better still any person under 25 – ask them, genuinely inquire, without leading – how is their experience of the (digital) world different from yours?
  4. Spend some time thinking less about making money, making your business grow, or meeting your KPIs – and instead allow yourself to play with some really new digital technology for a while – look for the purpose in your life that is allied with fun and enjoyment.
  5. Confess to a friend or colleague what you really feel about digital and new technology. Does it scare you? Make you angry or depressed? Talk about your feelings, not just what you think. Reflect together, be honest and open.

 

And maybe it will also be helpful to notice your resistance to any or all of these suggestions? If you slow down and really ‘inquire’ into that resistance, what do you find?

For me, even though I have worked with digital teams and digital technology all my working life, if I take the time to look I notice how easily my confidence is shaken when confronted by the shifting sands of change. ‘Digital’ is, of course, inherently scary and destabilising, because, as it changes, it is always different from what we already know.

Opening to that anxiety in the face of difference and newness – and letting it be ‘OK’ – leads to living more on what group psychologist Yvonne Agazarian (1999) called the ‘edge of the unknown’ – a place that can be exciting, even while it is still a little scary.

And the perfect irony of all this is that if you can reflect like this and discover a new way of being, or just take iterative steps by doing some of the things I have listed – in other words, being more experimental, more participative, more purposeful and more open – you are, of course, becoming more ‘digital’!

In fact, you’re becoming a ‘digital leader’ in OD&D.

Reference: Agazarian, Y. (1999) Systems-Centered Therapy for Groups, New York: Guilford Press