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Technology is the great enabler. With innovation, it makes for a great leap forward. And the best leaders make that happen. Image Credit: Shutterstock

When we think about leaders who changed our world, we often focus on the big events. The speech Martin Luther King Jr. delivered on the steps of Lincoln Memorial, or Gandhi’s ‘salt march’, or even Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first step on the moon. But the history of our world is also full of examples of leaders who might not be out there – but who have brought about change through new ways in which things are done.

A new breed of leaders has emerged. They are purpose-driven innovators, and their impact is just as significant. Purpose-driven innovators don’t just introduce new ways of doing things; they introduce new ways of thinking about the world and the future.

They are persuasive, lead through example, and don’t shy from storming through adversity for better days. We are fortunate, in that, we have been privileged to witness this leadership in action across the Middle East, particularly from the Gulf markets. From mitigating the pandemic’s impact, mobilizing and ushering the economy toward a digital future, and showcasing a future full of possibilities, the region truly is at the epicenter of innovation.

A leadership priority

As global businesses weather the storm, we need leaders who have the foresight and drive to prepare their organizations to embrace the digital world. As leaders start to think about what ‘work’ looks like in a post pandemic world, we must consider what this means for business.

We stand at a critical juncture with the latest tools to revitalize and reimagine vital industries. The fusion of technologies means that over the next decade, every successful business will need to be digital at heart. As we pursue emerging technologies such as AI/MI, big data, IoT or robotics and embrace digital transformation, business leaders need to practice innovation with a purpose.

Leaders are instrumental in fostering a culture of innovation and preparing the organization to be the disruptor rather than the disrupted. A KPMG study estimates that decisions, guidance and behavior of leadership accounts for 70 per cent of the impact to culture, while elements such as training and engagement programs account for the rest.

While innovation is clearly a leadership priority, a common pitfall is focusing investments on the latest and greatest technology without a clear vision of what it is going to do for the organization.

In a recent Dell Technologies’ Digital Transformation Index study, 80 per cent of business leaders have fast-tracked, at least, some of their digital transformation programs– accomplishing in a few months, what would normally have taken years. Yet, the same study revealed that ‘data overload and inability to extract insights from data’ is one of their key barriers to digital transformation.

Innovation cannot be rushed in response to sector disruption or competitor moves. It has to tie-in to the vision of the organization and an organization that chooses to respond to disruption says a lot about how committed they are to achieving their vision. Innovation in response to disruption can severely test this commitment, and this is a responsibility that the leadership shoulders.

The great enabler

Moving beyond recovery and settling into a new reality, technology will do more than sustain us. Companies that invest in innovation during a time of crisis outperform their peers during the recovery. Industry leaders can achieve even greater productivity increases from investments in new technology, pushing them ahead of later adopters.

Tomorrow, technology will take us a step further – helping us reimagine the way we live, how we connect and stay healthy. It will transform the relationship between citizens and governments, personalize blended learning in schools and put patients at the heart of their care plans.

Businesses will provide services that are truly innovative, giving consumers experiences they don’t yet know they desire, thanks to new 5G speeds, AI-powered insights, and Edge computing capabilities.

Technology will drive the recovery agenda, and enable truly innovative proposals and programmes, that are citizen-centric, reform focused, and which promise to make a meaningful impact. This all requires out-of-the-box thinking, excellent use of digital tools and brave leaders to set our world on a different, more harmonious course.

A forward-looking and purpose-driven innovator is every stakeholder’s dream, and a leader who can link innovation to a company’s vision will be well-positioned to deliver organization and, subsequently, industry-wide disruption. The future belongs to those who seek opportunities to innovate and impact generations to come. Now is the time to be bold and drive recovery and long-term resilience through technology-led innovation.