A Second Look At Southeast Asia’s Digital Leadership Problem

A Second Look At Southeast Asia’s Digital Leadership Problem

Andrea Loubier
12 May 2017

Digital Leadership is fast becoming the business buzzword for 2017, and in Southeast Asia only 5% of businesses are prepared for it. It is almost impossible to find an industry that is not feeling the effects of digital disruption and the need for digital leadership in their businesses. From startups and major enterprises to small local businesses, the digital revolution is demanding that we rethink our organisational structures and leadership roles to stay relevant and competitive.

But what is a digital leadership?

According to Deloitte, digital leadership is all about “digital transformation that requires top to bottom organisational change, which requires leaders who are willing and able to leverage digital to innovate, fail fast and drive value.”

A recent study on digital leadership in Southeast Asia, found that companies who have digital leaders report a stronger financial performance, higher employee engagement and diverse, inclusive cultures.

However, not many businesses in the region are taking advantage of digital leadership to transform their organisation and reap higher profits.

What is digital leadership?

What is digital leadership?

The Problem: Southeast Asia is Not Ready for Digital Leadership

In Deloitte’s annual Global Human Capital Trends report, South-east Asian companies are still struggling to develop the leadership talent needed for the digital era.

In the reports largest and most extensive survey to date, more than 10,000 HR and business leaders from 140 countries weighed in on some of the most pressing problems as a result of the digital age.

In the 2016 report, 97% of South-east Asian business and human resource leaders cited developing leadership as an important issue, but the vast majority did not have any systems in place to groom their employees into leaders.

According to Deloitte’s latest report, this is still a problem for Southeast Asia businesses. 87% of respondents felt that digital and transformational leadership is important, but only 5% have a strong digital leadership program in place.

As an entrepreneur running a global business predominantly from Southeast Asia, I see this lack of preparation on a daily basis. Too many people are still holding onto rigid ways of thinking, and simply missing out on the opportunities within the fast-growing digital revolutions that are more than ever an integral part of any business’s success.

A very rudimentary perspective of this can be seen in laundry businesses. In parts of Southeast Asia, locals use laundry services instead of owning a personal washer and dryer. The majority of these shops are quite basic. We can observe old methods of weighing laundry and quoting a price. Recently I was surprised to find a laundry shop in a tiny village in Bali, Indonesia that has digitalized their service. They’ve embraced digital leadership and incorporated technology to automate the customer to service processes as a laundry business.

It is evident the need for digital leadership in Southeast Asia, and in all facets of life are a requirement for survival and for a business to succeed.

The Solution: Fostering Digital Leadership in the Workplace

“Digital is the CEO’s next battleground,” says Jonathan Rees, Executive Director and Leader of Deloitte Digital in Southeast Asia. “It is the speed and thoughtfulness with which businesses respond in the digital age that determines their future.”

While there are a number of digital leadership programs businesses can sign up for, here are three small things you can start doing in your organisation today.

Strengthen tech companies in SEA with digital leadership

Strengthen tech companies in SEA with digital leadership

1. Get rid of traditional hierarchies

To adapt to the rapid pace of digital disruption and change, you need a business model that gives your leaders the ability to morph. Conservative hierarchal structures limit employees with strong entrepreneurial traits and your ability to benefit from their drive and energy.

At Mailbird, we still have teams and decision makers, but everyone is given ownership over his or her tasks. We empower and actively groom our team members to become leaders within their teams in order to sustain and grow the business.

2. Make data-backed decisions

The Leaders 2020 study found that only 61% of South-east Asian executives are using data to drive decisions, a key characteristic of a digital leader.

With so much data available at our fingertips, from Google Analytics to consumer demographics and rich sources of pain points like Quora, your business will not succeed if your leaders are not using data to back-up their key strategic decisions.

3. Use continuous learning to drive digital skills

If you want your business to stay competitive, you need a team with a robust set of skills that is always evolving. Companies that want to foster digital leadership need to create a system that has continuous learning opportunities such as coaching, support tools and training that can be requested at any time.

If one of my team members finds a new course or a conference in their field that will help them do their job better, I fully encourage it and promote this trait of continuous development within our company culture. It creates an agile mindset within the company culture and the ability to adapt to the disruptive nature that defines the business world we live in today.

Women in SEA embracing digital leadership

Women in SEA embracing digital leadership

It’s More Important Than Ever to be Agile and Adaptable to Change

If Southeast Asia businesses want to take advantage of the digital revolution, there needs to be a shift in mindsets. Companies need to start investing in a plan of action to go beyond just acknowledging the need for digital leadership to actually harnessing it within their organisations. Perhaps the next Deloitte report, we’ll find more than only 5% of Southeast Asia businesses that hold digital leadership at a higher stake.


This article was written by Andrea Loubier from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.