Finding leaders for blockchain tech

To embrace newest technologies, boardrooms require disruptive visionaries
By Yanouk Poirier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/31/2018

With blockchain and other “fintech” set to transform many industries, it’s in the boardroom that organizations need to prepare for the disruptive challenges ahead.

Senior leaders require new skill sets not only to tackle the threats, but to harness the wealth of opportunities offered by these technologies. This raises some important questions about how organizations identify the qualities they need at the C-suite level.

Understanding blockchain

Blockchain is among a growing list of technologies that corporate leaders need to come to grips with. Essentially a digital ledger, blockchain stores, manages and transmits records known as blocks. The system was originally invented to record transactions made in the bitcoin cryptocurrency.

Each block contains a timestamp, and a new block can only be authorized by following strict protocols. Accessible and easily distributed, blockchain is cryptographically secure and inherently resistant to modification and corruption. It serves as an indelible and transparent record for all transactions, providing proof of who has owned what at any time.

Blockchain is causing quite a stir in the financial services sector because of its potential to improve the efficiency and security of transactions, simplify compliance, and ensure privacy and anonymity. For example, by dispensing with the need for a middle person in processing transactions, it could mean the two billion people in the world who don’t have a bank account could have access to the financial services they need.

The ability to immediately and securely transfer funds also creates opportunities for new businesses. Blockchain could be used to track car and property ownership or update medical records, for example. In short, it could radically alter the way customers, vendors and employees deal with each other. This will mean old business models will need a rethink to ensure they’re still relevant.

Boardroom competencies

Organizations should be preparing for blockchain and other disruptive technologies by ensuring they have leaders in place with the capability to embrace them.

Responding to these changes requires a new approach to leadership so change is driven from the top. The board should not only be aware of the potential of new technologies, but be ready to adapt in a fast-changing environment.

This requires core competencies in change management, innovative thinking and the ability to drive values and build trust.

Leaders need the ability to not only set strategy, but gain buy-in across every level of the organization. Collaboration and creativity will therefore be core strategic characteristics required by leaders and managers if an organization is going to compete, survive and thrive in this new business landscape.

Digital leadership

We’re now moving into a new phase of digital leadership — leaders with disruptive vision who delegate authority, ferment new cultures, and understand that everything is about client-centric execution based on constant interaction and experimentation with customers.

Digital leadership is an approach born during the dot.com boom when the new wave of digital corporate giants dramatically redefined strategy
and management.

It’s a culture that relies on agile management and leadership principles that allow more decisions to be made at the lower levels of an organization through delegation of responsibility and authority to small teams.

It’s a method of leadership that features collaboration and transparency for unrestricted communication, real-time problem-solving and fast-paced creative thinking. Digital leaders are often seen as coaches, creating the conditions for their teams
to outperform.

Digital leadership in Silicon Valley has proved so successful that leaders in traditional organizations now have to integrate this new approach as a matter of survival.

Of course, leaders rarely depend on just one leadership style and they will need the flexibility to combine digital leadership with other styles, such as more traditional authority leadership involving greater direction, less delegation and an expectation of loyalty, and performance leadership — typically based on building a strong team aligned to a clear market vision.

A useful complement to digital leadership is the concept of an advisory board or committee to help C-suite leaders make key strategy decisions. This can bring fresh perspectives on new problems and challenges, assist in the hiring of key players, act as a sounding board on big projects and provide a complementary network of contacts.

Above all, adapting to technological change requires talent that can create value — ultimately, this is all that matters to the people most important to the bottom line: The customer.

Yanouk Poirier is global lead for technology, media and telecoms at executive search firm Penrhyn International, and managing partner at Leaders International, Penrhyn International’s member firm in Canada. He can be reached at yanouk.poirier@penrhyn.com or for more information, visit www.penrhyn.com or www.leadersinternational.com.

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