If any year has demanded change, it’s this one. 2021 is coming at us fast, and with it, the need for change. The American people — and indeed those all over the world — took a beating in 2020 with a global pandemic that put everyone in the same storm, if not the same boat. There’s not much certainty as we head into a new year, but one thing is for sure: it’s time for change. If your plans to reinvent yourself were sidelined throughout much of last year, now’s time for change: tips for reinventing yourself; your chance to take the bull by the horns, declare war on the status quo, and say enough is enough.

2021 is the year of your reinvention as a leader. And it starts now. OK…well, so how do you do it and where do you start? First, it’s important to note that reinvention is not just something that happens on New Year’s. It’s a constant building block that forms the very foundation of any good leader — year round. Things have changed. In past generations, there was always a consistent set of core skills and clear career paths that in essence acted like a road map for top executives and entrepreneurs. Do this, follow that path, and you will end up here.  

Not so today. This generation’s leaders are constantly revisiting their skills, re-investigating their aspirations, and reconstituting their careers, points out Coruzant. This can pose challenges if you tend to get caught in ruts and trapped in routines, avoid risk, and simply don’t like stepping out of your comfort zone.

Reinvention of the leader is not always comfortable. It’s difficult, time consuming, and decidedly uncomfortable at times. But no leader was ever born who didn’t look discomfort in the face and vow to defeat it.   This begs the question: why do leaders always have to be mindful of reinventing themselves? Turbulence…shifting technologies…changing organizational structures…unpredictable markets…competition. All of these factors demands we pivot at a moment’s notice to branch off onto different paths. It’s not easy, but here are some tips to get you going.  

Why Reinvent Yourself?

Reinvention is key for many reasons:

  • It keeps you in the game: Embrace the changes that come with every new day and your perspective will change for the better because it becomes habit. You’ll soon tackle each day with renewed vigor to achieve the most you can each day.
  • It keeps you positive: It’s easy to become crippled with negativity, which is the result of being trapped with the same perspective. Approach new perspectives with zeal and you will be rewarded with a positive outlook on life.
  • It helps you push the envelope: The only limits you face are the ones you impose on yourself. Taking on new responsibilities and skills on a regular basis not only benefits you on a personal level, but it makes you a more effective leader and team member.
  • It redefines you: Redefining your goals and outlooks forces you to shift focus on the regular, bringing a fresh perspective to each new endeavor.
  • It keeps you on your toes: Boredom is born from an unstimulated mind. When you reinvent yourself as a leader, you’re constantly overflowing with new ideas, which keeps stale thinking at bay.

Tips to Hone Your Leadership Skills

  • Know Your Direction: Get inspired, do your research, read reports, watch videos, take note of all ideas that inspire you. Then define and hone your direction. Identify what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are, then build a plan that takes into account threats as well as opportunities.
  • Start learning: Create a list of the skills you want to achieve and number them in order of usefulness. The ones worth pursuing will involve learning something new. Whether that’s a new technology or a new language, you will need to embrace the certifications and training involved to get you there.
  • Develop a network of support: You’ll need people behind you for support as you take on new directions. Look for professional networks in your desired niche, find industry events, connect with others online, join pertinent sessions and exchange ideas, all of which will help you grow and hone your skills, says Forbes.
  • Keep reinventing yourself: Impactful leaders don’t stagnate. When you feel this happening, start the process over again.

In the end, leaders influence and inspire others around them. Putting into action what you have learned is essential to your reinvention. Like a muscle that gets insufficient use, leadership is not something you can commit to on January 1, polish it, and set it in a corner. It must be worked on, built on, and shared for it to have true worth for your organization, your network, and yourself. 

Digital transformation in the business world refers to the efforts of companies to keep up with changing environments spurred on by customer demand and technology. Because digital tools and technology are constantly evolving and affecting how people interact with one another, this in turn changes the way in which we conduct business. How you transform your core business processes using digital technology will determine how you can achieve competitive advantage and gain differentiation in your market segment, says Techopedia. It’s essentially the third component of how businesses embrace digital technology, following digital competence and digital usage. With an ability to bring on new elements of innovation and creativity, digital transformation goes beyond enhancing and supporting traditional strategies.

What Spurs Change?

On the quest to find true digital transformation, one must understand the drivers that affect this change, namely profitability, customer satisfaction, and increased speed-to-market. There’s a general understand that CIOs should be the driving forces implementing this transformation for their businesses, but is this really happening? In reality, it doesn’t seem to be that cut and dried. In fact, digital transformation has many motivations and is the responsibility of many people, from top executives to lower-level employees, says CMS Wire.

According to research presented by MediaPost, poor customer experiences caused an estimated $83 billion loss by U.S. companies every year due to defections and abandoned shopping carts. With so many options these days offered by cloud, mobile, Internet of Things, and others, it’s easy to lose sight of quality of the data in favor or hyper personalization.

So the question remains: how can companies find true digital transformation with leadership from their CIOs?

Insights

Companies that can harness the power of true digital transformation will enjoy the fruits of their labor by being at the top of the heap in terms of competitive advantage and differentiation. That’s what we’re all striving for anyway, right? Here are some suggestions:

Have a real strategy ready to go. If you’re still grappling with how to come up with an operational plan that works for your website and social media platforms, you’re not going to get very far. Approach this goal not operationally but strategically, focusing on how your organization will be impacted by digital or how you can channel those new capabilities to broaden your overall business strategy. Lisa Welchman as quoted on CMS Wire says companies that have been disrupted by digital have become that way —  not because they didn’t have a CIO in charge of the transformation — but because they lost that 360-degree view of how digital would impact their digital models.

Recognize the full value of all digital assets throughout your company. CIOs all too often get into a file-centric mindset that puts them in a rut they can’t quite get out of. Instead, use flexible data models that will work to engage new streams of revenue in order to encourage innovation. This will go a long way towards creating important digital transformations such as attracting new clients or driving new sources of revenue.

Focus on the customer as central to your success in the digital age. As the CIO, you have to re-examine your thinking and accelerate your reach via the enhancement of the customer experience. Crafting a solid foundation on which to illustrate this transformation is key for longevity of purpose. As such, you must re-evaluate traditional roles and make sure you are incorporating the best talent and infrastructure to build a platform for your new targeted strategies.

Imaginative thinking, coupled with just the right amount of spot-on execution, will be the catalyst for true digital transformation.

No one always likes change, but change is a necessary catalyst to improve the fundamentals of any organization. Transformation requires strong, authentic leadership in order to be successful; if not, failure is a very real possibility. CIO.com says that in many transformation programs, sufficient checks and balances exist so that failure does not readily occur; however, if not managed well, transformation programs can be delivered late, over-budget and far off the track of the original vision. Statistics show that less than 40 percent of transformation programs are successful, due to a disconnect that exists in the goals of such programs and the reality of resources that can be devoted to it (time, money, personnel, etc.).


Implementing a Transformation Office

That’s where the implementation of a Transformation Management Office (TMO) comes in. Someone has to be at the helm of the operation who not only recognizes the inherent challenges that come with implementing enterprise transformation and the work that must be done to achieve it, but who also can guarantee streamlined, spot-on execution at just the right pace with all eyes on the finish line. Combining strategy with clear-cut goals for implementation is critical for the TMO.


What Does a TMO Do?

This part of an organization is the crux of any successful transformation, with the central duty being to implement the complex task of adding value and accountability to the process. In general, the TMO will:

  • Lead the charge in coming up with creative, workable ideas designed to fuel the transformation effort and ensure it has the steam to move forward.
  • Offer a simple yet detailed approach to the process so executives and other key personnel can take those ideas and run with them.
  • Analyze how the transformation will take place and align with corporate vision.
  • Ensure the program has clear objectives.
  • Utilizes a streamlined operating model where efficiency and cost effectiveness take center stage.

The bottom line is, organizational transformation is disruptive. It’s uncomfortable for many, and it takes time. That’s why a TMO must be brought on board to concentrate on the specific tasks involved in orchestrating this endeavor, following it through to its completion despite such roadblocks. Putting this task on front-line staff and executives too entrenched in the organization already is a recipe for disaster. This is why a traditional project management office (PMO) is not a good choice to lead such an initiative. They deal with administration and compliance on a regular basis, and therefore would not be a good fit for the challenges that are part and parcel of a large transformation initiative.

The difference between success and failure of an organizational transformation often comes down to action. Your TMO needs to walk a fine line between strategy and clear objectives on one side but also implementation and action on the other. Anyone can sit in a boardroom and contemplate goals. It takes a strong leadership team to take those talking points and apply them in a value-driven way for success. Which side of the line will you be on?

Integrity…credibility…respect…these are just a few qualities of a true leader. Anyone can be in a position of leadership, whether at work, school or peer group, but this isn’t just a title, lip service or a delegation. It has to come from within. True leaders know who they are and what they stand for; they know their values and the rules they will abide by; and they know and communicate their values openly with those they lead, creating an atmosphere of certainty and trust, says Forbes.

True Leader

A true leader also:

  • Lives the values they profess to believe
  • Leads by example
  • Works side by side those they lead in order to get to know and care about them
  • Inspires their team
  • Listens without being condescending
  • Is willing to hear what others have to say without judgment
  • Is patient and genuine in their thoughts
  • Communicates openly and often
  • Disciplines with a desire to help others improve rather than from a place of anger
  • Gives feedback in a respectful way
  • Doesn’t use sarcasm to communicate; this makes others feel uncertain or belittled

True leaders never back down from a challenge. Yes, everyone has to pick their battles, but when their instincts tell them something is or isn’t right, they’ll defend their position succinctly and thoroughly. True leaders also have empathy. That’s because they’re genuine and sincere, allowing them to understand innately what another is going through because they’ve been there themselves. This stems from being true to oneself. Not everyone has empathy just like not everyone has respect. It has to be earned.

Thought Leaders

People also ask me, “What is a thought leader?”  A thought leader is an informed opinion leader who is the top resource in their field of expertise. They are trusted leaders who inspire people with innovative and unique ideas; but they don’t just talk about it — they turn those ideas into reality. It’s actually a big part of content marketing where you can convey your talent, experience and passion about what you do. Answering questions your readers need to know doesn’t stem from a fancy degree. It relies on a differentiated point of view that rests with being an authority in your industry. 

Thought leaders don’t just talk the talk — they actually inspire change in meaningful ways and encourage others to join their efforts through evolutionary advancements in their fields. Yes, they encourage others to be open to new ways of thinking, but they also create the map by which people can achieve it. This set of best practices creates a foundation for others to build on.

True leaders show others what’s right through actions not just words. Just because it’s your title at work or you can wear it on a badge doesn’t mean you are automatically a leader. It’s something to be earned and can’t be achieved through lip service.

Fostering a culture of innovation begins and ends with an open mind about change. In order to promote an innovative workplace, no matter what the sector, there should be a continual exchange of ideas to result in the right balance for your company. Yes, you need creativity at the forefront of it all, but this isn’t something that can be forced. However, positioning your firm to achieve a successful approach to innovation takes a few key motivators, from flexibility in the work environment to hiring team members for a vision that aligns with yours. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to foster an innovative workplace.

Building a Creative Mindset

This all starts from the ground up with the people you decide to bring on board to take this journey with you. The wrong employees can prove to be toxic to your overall vision of creativity, change and flexibility in the work environment. It doesn’t mean you have to only hire people who agree with you all the time; it’s more than that. You want to encourage different perspectives by hiring people who are passionate about what they do, with the flexibility to spur on productivity without being hampered by rigid thoughts, ideas or scheduling parameters, says Forbes.

Here are some tips to achieving that sought-after creativity:

  • Give employees incentives to care and thus share your company vision
  • Involve your employees in the process, listening to their ideas and getting them pumped about a new project, company direction, etc.
  • Brainstorm to help new ideas emerge
  • Broaden perspectives and encourage change through practices like short-term job swaps
  • Encourage trying new things, tweaking them to make them fit, discarding them or embracing them as a result
  • Avoid penalizing those whose ideas don’t end up working out
  • Reward and encourage the flow of ideas and new thoughts

Does Technology = Innovation?

There’s no denying technology is a big piece of the innovation puzzle. After all, how can you expect to compete in today’s global market if you’re not on board with the latest technology? Innovation often goes hand in hand with technology, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, you can be innovative at little or no cost. Innovation, at its very core, is something more than that. Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, put it best in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance: “

In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” You can have all the strategy, marketing, technology and financial management skills in the world, and although all those things will help get you on the path to success, it may not necessarily keep you there. Bottom line is, you won’t get far if innovation, flexibility, and creativity aren’t ingrained in the company’s soul.

Here we go again — IT is starting off the new year in a hole that we’ve dug ourselves into. Check out these current headlines:

• Why Your Company’s Next CEO is Not Your Current CIO, Forbes, February, 2015.
” IT is still perceived as a cost center and the CIO as the Chief Infrastructure Officer.”

• Better Pharma CMO and CIO Collaboration Will Advance the Digital Revolution, Accenture Study, March, 2015.
“Two-thirds (67%) of the CMO respondents do not view IT as a strategic partner.” 

• The Top 10 Strategic CIO Issues for 2015, Forbes, February, 2015.
“Transform the IT organization and reputation from no to yes, from SLAs to revenue growth, from obstacle to accelerator, from passive to opportunistic…For too long, CIOs and their IT organizations have earned the unflattering reputation of being Doctor No.”

• CIOs Combat the Old “IT-as-a-Cost-Center” Perception, Wall Street Journal, February 2015.

“The IT-as-a-Cost-Center perception remains widespread, threatening to deny CIOs an opportunity to help drive strategy. New McKinsey & Co. research found only about one-third of executives said their CIOs are very involved in shaping the overall business strategies and goals of the company.”

It’s time to take a serious look in the mirror, come to grips with reality and hold ourselves undeniably accountable — Information Technology is still out of sync with our business leaders and customers. While many CIOs and technologists may defend IT in an attempt to sway perceptions, I recommend that we wisely invest our time, energy and resources in  “changing the business of IT” through clear, deliberate and intentional acts that position our businesses and customers for extraordinary success!

Why is it so difficult for IT to make the leap from technology geeks to influential business advisors, empathetic customer advocates and inspiring change agents?

The short answer is…the IT industry continues to attract a certain type of individual plus perpetuate a certain type of servicing style — people who are great at tactics but who lack strategic chops. Now there is a place for IT tactics, but when the scale tips to a degree where the number of tactical thinkers and doers vastly outweighs the critical strategic thinking and doing required to help our organizations attain new performance heights, we’re failing our key stakeholders. 

What do critical thinking strategists bring to the IT table?

Closely aligning and partnering with their C-level counterparts and customers, they are in the forefront of the action:

  • Anticipating and quickly responding to market shifts.
  • Articulating the possibilities as they identify, sell and act on the simplest to the most complex innovative solutions that will grow the business, advance market share and strengthen customer loyalty.
  • Evangelizing for and accelerating movement on ideas and decision-making outcomes as well as seizing opportunistic moments.
  • Building out the IT brand by enhancing the customer experience, connecting with customers at an emotional level and proactively shaping communications and key messages that highlight promises kept plus business value delivered.

Speaking in business not IT language plus crafting compelling, real-life stories that influence and inspire decision makers to take enabling-technology action.

Digging deep as they genuinely empathize with their customers while learning about their needs, pain points and goals, then seeking out targeted solutions that not only make their customers’ lives easier, but spotlight their customers’ accomplishments and successes.

Being curious about and learning business nuances only to discover and act on organizational challenges that would have otherwise gone undetected.
Tackling complex topics and issues that others avoid, such as customer-centric big data and analytics, social media engagement or more industry-specific subjects.

Embracing globalization by reinventing security, mobility and virtual workplace strategies.
Managing by exception versus managing everything in a world that is spinning at a rate that will obliterate us if we can’t get our arms around what’s most important to keep our businesses thriving and competitive.

What’s stopping us from building out our strategic bench strength? 

It would be a considerable relief if there was one very simple root cause that could be easily rectified. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As CIOs, we’re confronting some incredibly tough and sticky issues. In a nutshell, IT organizations are:

  • Thinking that they’re strategic when they’re not — a case of being self-unaware.
  • Failing to recognize that they need critical thinking strategists as a competitive advantage — a case of being oblivious.
  • Magically expecting tacticians to become strategists when they’re not wired that way — a case of misguided optimism.
  • Continuing to hire like-minded people where tacticians are hiring tacticians — a case of “birds of a feather”.
  • Squelching the efforts of the few strategists that do exist in IT organizations by continuing to drag them into the tactics — a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. 

It’s Our Choice

As CIOs, we must come to the realization that we’re contributing to the IT-as-a-cost-center paradigm. We owe it to our organizations and our customers to take a hard stand and say “enough is enough”. It’s our responsibility to assess our strategic capabilities, or lack thereof, formulate a course correction plan and take decisive action. If we are remiss in our strategic responsibilities by continuing to turn a blind eye to this decade-old pervasive problem, we don’t deserve a seat at the executive table…we don’t deserve a loyal customer base…and we don’t deserve to be fulfilling the role of CIO. Let’s step up our game as IT leaders and permanently change the paradigm!