Singapore’s business leader status under threat, expert says

This, if the country does not develop effective digital leaders.

Understanding the importance of upskilling, Singapore is offering its workforce in-demand tech expertise, such as programming software engineering, and data analytics. But the Center for Creative Leadership argued that a new digital talent gap is emerging, the same that lets Singaporean leaders fall short in digital leadership that cultivates diversity.

“The Singapore government, for instance, collaborated with the private sector to launch #GetReadySG—an initiative to provide industry-relevant training and help up to 1,000 Singaporeans land jobs in tech roles. Earlier this March, Singapore also rolled out a new Digital Leaders Programme, which will support businesses in building a core digital team,” Elisa Mallis, managing director and vice president of APAC at Center for Creative Leadership, told the Singapore Business Review.

Mallis, however, said that there is still a gap between Singapore and other countries. She cited the recent study conducted by Cognizant titled “The Path to Digital Leadership in Asia.” It showed that despite the Asia Pacific leading in the number of firms (48%) undergoing digital transformation, Singapore lags. The country only recorded 13% of its firms as digital leaders—a low percentage compared to its neighbours: Australia (27%), Japan (27%), China (18%), and India (16%).

The way forward

This can be resolved, Mallis claimed, most especially because, in the same study, the Singapore government led in the implementation of digital leadership at 33%. By shifting positions in the areas of education, talent, and support, the country can reposition itself as an innovator in digital leadership.

In the area of education, for example, Mallis believed that introducing important qualities, such as the growth mindset, during early school and university education, is a long-term nurturing of digital leaders that are willing to take risks.

Talent and support would also need long term support, as talents would need to go through an “ecosystem of learning that includes ongoing mentorship, coaching, and upskilling.” Businesses, meanwhile, would also need continued support, as promoting digitally ready companies will promote digital innovation.

Mallis identified nine digital leadership roles across three key themes: setting direction, creating alignment, and scaling commitment. If these leaders are exceptional by themselves, collaboration is the path forward to leverage digital opportunities and develop a learning environment that focuses on innovation. 

Under direction, the roles of a future seeker, business shaper, and customer champion can be seen. With commitment, the roles of a talent maker, culture catalyst, and engagement energiser are reiterated. In creating alignment, the roles of an ecosystem builder, organisation transformer, and innovation accelerator are focused on.

“Over the last year, most of the leaders and leadership teams we’ve worked with have had a clear transformation remit. However, few really
understood and invested time in working on the alignment between digital transformation and
cultural change.”

According to Mallis, a study by Boston Consulting Group, a global management firm,  found that companies which are focused on culture were five times more likely to achieve breakthrough results in their digital transformation initiatives than those that did not.

“A human-centred approach to digital transformation is about bringing people from all levels of society and all generations along. More than that, it is also about bringing along the SMEs and non-profit sectors in Singapore, not only the public and for-profit organisations. We will also start to see more Singaporean digital leaders in regional and global roles who must be able to bring people and teams across different geographies along in the digital transformation journey. To do so, Singapore leaders must be able to connect with and galvanize people from multiple countries and all walks of life, as well as to be comfortable with taking more risks and making mistakes, even if it means failing in front of their teams.”

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