18 November 2020 14:43:04 IST

Managers in the digital age can transition into leadership roles quicker

Accomplishments beyond the requirements of current roles will be doubly rewarded during Covid times

The pandemic and enforced social distancing is a difficult time for all managers. It has an enormous impact on learning and development while they try to balance the demands of home and work. How do you maintain your learning journey and advance your leadership skills while working from home? Opportunities for high performers are opening up in companies and it is important to be ready to grab these opportunities as they arise.

Leadership roles now demand a wider spectrum of capabilities including business acumen, broader functional knowledge, and stronger alignment with organisational values. This transformation in business landscape will potentially enable and inspire more managers to assume leadership roles much earlier in their career. This surge in opportunities for leadership roles calls for new approaches to groom employees with high potential into leaders.

These approaches will involve a blend of traditional assessments, competency development roadmap, self-learning and reflections, collaborative projects, business simulations, and other planned interventions. Harnessing digital will enable a more personalised and robust development roadmap as HR and business heads collaborate to augment their leadership pipeline. Development programmes, that combine physical with digital, offer flexibility to individual managers while also providing several scalable options for the business.

Organisations are already reaping the benefits of infusing digital in talent management and leadership development programmes. Digital tools and platforms offer greater flexibility with multiple options for personalising the learning journey.

Virtual assessments

Self-awareness and leadership profiling are the starting points for leadership development agenda. Online surveys for self-assessment and assessment by others, including peers, generate valuable data for reflection and the creation of a development agenda.

A large commercial bank combined 360-degree performance reviews with virtual assessments and on-field programmes involving strategic group activities in an offline setting to short-list a group of high performers for advancement into top management positions. High potentials were identified based on track record, ability to achieve goals and objectives, and for accomplishments beyond the requirements of current roles. Several softer aspects such as teamwork, interpersonal skills, trust, flexibility, integrity, and honesty are integral elements of this virtual assessment as well.

Personalised experience

Digital learning tools support a personalised journey through learning logs to facilitate application of concepts, frameworks, and tools to the workplace setting. Combining the virtual learning diary with an individualised action plan, under the guidance of a learning consultant, helps map progress and improve engagement during the learning journey.

In addition, adopting learner analytics and gamified content can augment this self-driven learning process and motivate learners by nudging them to complete the readings, assignments, and exercises.

Collaborative learning

Enhancing the learning experience by creating teams of learners to work together to learn new concepts, complete tasks and solve problems actively engages learners to process and synthesise information and concepts. Learners work with each other on projects and collaborate to understand the concepts. Online simulations, group exercises and projects cultivate essential collaborative leadership competencies to understand the conceptual framework and tools to effectively incorporate the leadership principles. Engagement through social lounge and continuously moderated discussion forum reinforce collaborative leadership skills.


Action learning projects (ALP) are increasingly complementing the traditional methods of verifying the learning through tests for certification. Digital tools including virtual meetings, Zoom interviews, online surveys and databases facilitate these group projects. Mentored by guides from the academic partner and business heads, they serve as the capstone for the learning journey. Top managers’ involvement in selecting the projects based on organisational priorities, mentoring and evaluation ensure business buy-in and greater commitment by the learner groups. Providing financial resources to implement the winning ideas create a powerful motivation for all participants to show case their execution capabilities.

A blended programme as a part of L&D, funded by a leading global technology firm, enabled three dozen managers to undertake a personalised, modular learning journey spread over a year. The Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP) systematically identified several ideas that were adopted and executed.

Executive education programmes developed in partnership with HR and L&D heads help design and deliver high-impact customised learning experiences for managers. However, these opportunities need not be limited to managers sponsored by their companies. Motivated and self-driven managers can harness the power of digital and enrol for programmes offered by leading business schools on MOOC platforms such as edX, Coursera, in addition to the certificate programmes offered by global B-schools. Many of these programmes are now offered in online and hybrid modes. 

The transition from a successful individual performer to leading teams and businesses calls for methodical investment of time, effort and resources by committed professionals. Digital and blended learning are making these leadership development programmes more affordable and accessible. As you reflect on your personal , and professional life in these trying times, learning and development will be the key to reposition or even reinvent yourself for leadership roles.

(The author is Chairperson, Executive Education Programmes, and faculty in the marketing area at IIM Bangalore.)