Developing the 7 digital habits: Habit 6 – Lead by being a digital example


This is part of a series of posts that were prompted by an article written by the Leading Edge Forum entitled The 7 Digital Habits of Highly Effective People.

So far in this series we’ve talked quite a bit about the changes that you can make in your own working practice to build a set of digital habits. We’ve talked about the tools and techniques available to enable us to understand what is going on around us. We each have a personal brand and we’ve talked about how we can proactively manage that. There are new techniques and tools available all the time and we’ve discussed how to keep a sharp edge and how to avoid all the distractions. We’ve even highlighted the role of the digital synergist.

These new techniques and tools are only as good as the amount of change they’re able to make to ways we and our teams work. A powerful way of bringing about change is to model the changes through leading by example. This brings us to the sixth digital habit.

From The 7 Digital Habits of Highly Effective People:

HABIT 6 – Lead by being a digital example – we need to be the change we want to see in our people, so we need to be clear on our own reasons or “whys” for becoming a 21st Century Human and make what we call a Digital Decision to follow through. This links to the [Stephen] Covey habit of “Begin with the end in mind.” That is being clear on what you want by understanding your mission, your values, your goals. Doing the regular goal setting and reviews, so that they are front and centre to combat the distraction issue covered by Habit 4. Getting a digital coach to help is also we believe key to support leaders’ efforts in this area.

Leading ourselves into change

When I say lead here, I mean it in the broadest sense. I’m not talking about organisational hierarchies, I’m talking about all the people that you and I influence. You might be “leading” your organisational manager. Or, you may be leading someone who regards you as a mentor. Your leadership may apply broadly to a team that you work within. Technology has allowed leadership to happen in many ways and in many different directions.

The primary leadership that we have, though, is of ourselves — so we’ll start there. A significant factor in leading ourselves into a set of changed habits is to have a clear understanding of why we want to make the change and to continuously reinforce that foundation. For most of us, we need a tangible reason to make a change and for that change to stick. You’ll need to find that reason for yourself, but here are some of my motivators for change:

  • Emerging technologies are making many things that were previously impossible, attainable, and that’s an exciting place to be. The exploitation of these technological capabilities requires each of us to evolve our skills on a continuous basis.
  • Automation is changing what we regard as work, making some jobs redundant and radically changing others. This creates a whole new set of opportunities, but only for those with the ability to see them coming — and I’d like to be one of those people.
  • Many people are overwhelmed with the amount of information that they are expected to process on a daily, even hourly, basis. Adopting the right set of tools and practices can have a significant impact on that overload.
  • Change is inevitable, which, for me, is exciting. I quite like change.

Perhaps you have different reasons, and that’s fine. You just need to know what they are. Then, from that foundation, you can decide on your initial mission and goals.

Agile personal change mindset

One of the practices synonymous with “digital” is an Agile mindset, a term that has grown out of the Agile Manifesto created in 2001 for software development (though the fundamentals of these principles are even older). Since then, the principles have been applied in many different scenarios — and that’s how I view the adoption of the Digital Habits. Let me explain . . .

Many organisations have defined people development cycles — including annual reviews and mid-term reviews — that align to the Waterfall approach to project management. You define a goal out in the future, perhaps 12 months away, and aim for it. That may be fine for someone who is training to be a physician, but it doesn’t really work in the changing world of technology.

In an Agile world, things are planned in sprints lasting only a few weeks, and the content of each sprint is based on items collected into a backlog. At the start of each sprint you decide what you are going to tackle based on the items in the backlog. That’s kind of how I now plan my personal and professional development.

Working this way has several advantages:

  • It allows me to try something out as a kind of personal development experimentation to see if I’ve got an aptitude for it.
  • I can see the value of each sprint in a skill learnt or an understanding gained. That’s quite motivating.
  • The cost of change is very low. If I try something I don’t connect with, I don’t have to go any further with it.
  • The backlog provides a place to store all the things that look interesting as I come across them. I don’t have to investigate them immediately, which helps me to maintain focus.
  • It’s easy to adjust my course when things change — which they do, regularly — as the priority of each item in the backlog is revisited at the start of each sprint.

Getting the practice in

There’s never been a time when good quality training has been so accessible. Learning platforms like Udemy provide access to professional training for the cost of a book, and most of the digital capabilities are supported by extensive training capabilities. Then there’s the ultimate source of thousands of hours of expertise — YouTube.

But for me there’s little point in doing training without also implementing that learning. Fortunately, the digital change that we are going through provides many ways to have a go as we practice. Take collaboration as a great example — you don’t have to procure a collaboration platform and wait six months to have it implemented. The most popular collaboration platforms are based on consumer models that allow a small team to get started for free or for a very low investment.

Both Microsoft Teams and Slack enable you to start with a small team and build out from that point. If this works for your team during a sprint, carry on, grow from there. If it doesn’t, then try to understand, learn and move forward in a different way.

Perhaps you want to understand how a Kanban approach may work. Trello provides free access to experiment.

There are many other examples: Amazon Web Services provides a free tier. Microsoft Azure provides free credits. Google Cloud Platform has a free tier also. GitHub allows you to create your own project (in public) for no charge. The list goes on.

Being the change you want to see

There isn’t a certificate that you and I can take to prepare us for the digital future. We each need to work our way through this change as it evolves and mutates. My plan is to be the change that I want to see in sprints — adding to my skills and changing my practice in increments and leading others along the journey.

Just as important as being an out-in-front leader is for us to be supporting leaders, encouraging others in their experimenting. We have so much to learn from each other and being an active participant who is leading by example can be just as powerful as being the official driver of change.


Graham Chastney is a senior principal technologist in DXC. He has worked in the arena of workplace technology for nearly 30 years, starting as a sysprog supporting IBM DISOSS and DEC All-in-1. Latterly Graham has been working with DXC’s customers to help them understand how they exploit the changing world of workplace technology. Graham lives with his family in the United Kingdom.

Twitter: @grahamchastney


  1. […] Most of the habits relate to the individual, and how we can use these to understand what is going upon around us. However, there is one that resonates directly with the topic of today: Lead by being a Digital Example. […]

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