Stephen Scheeler
Stephen Scheeler,
Former ANZ CEO Facebook

The 8 Attributes of a Digital CEO

"If Facebook, Amazon or Google were running an airline, they’d have installed sensors on the plane. Sensors so sensitive they could measure the quality of people sleeping from a few metres away. And if these sensors didn’t exist, they’d invent them"


Written by Rebekah Campbell 

‘The skills a leader needs to succeed in 2019 are very different to 2013’, says Stephen Scheeler, Former CEO Facebook ANZ.  ‘The world is changing so fast.  You can’t get away from technology, even if you wanted to.  Wave after wave of disruption is washing over everything.  And everyone is grappling with it.’

According to Stephen, this acceleration presents an incredible opportunity for leaders who want to get ahead.  ‘Almost every business is in trouble and it’s only going to get harder.  The right kind of leadership can transform a team and even a company.  And a smart, energetic individual can advance their career fast.’

Stephen runs Digital Disruptive Leadership, a one-day intensive workshop in Sydney and Melbourne. The workshop is a small group (limited to 15) so Stephen can address each individual’s business and career goals.

We asked Stephen about the core attributes of a great digital leader.  A lot has been written on this topic, but Stephen’s advice is confronting and important.


What’s in this article:

  1. Why now?
  2. The characteristics of a digital CEO
  3. The difference between Facebook / Google / Amazon and everyone else
  4. Data is the new oil. But what does it mean for me?
  5. How business needs to change
  6. Career advice for disruptive leaders


Why now?

‘People feel disrupted in a way we’ve never seen before’, says Stephen.  ‘People are worried about the future of their careers and the future of their businesses in a digital world.  There’s a sense that we’ve fallen through a looking glass.  Wasn’t it yesterday that we all watched three TV channels?  Netflix didn’t exist.  Every day there’s a news story about a hack or crypto currency scandal.  We’ve seen the US election disrupted by technology.

‘I work with a wide range of businesses, and there’s a feeling of bewilderment in the leadership teams.  Every industry is being impacted: fashion is now shaped by Instagram, sport is being disrupted by Twitch.  More people now watch games of Twitch than watch the Soccer World Cup.  Everyone from mortgage brokers, to consumer products to small online retailers.  You’re going to have to transform the way you think - and not in a way that you’d expect.’


The characteristics of a digital CEO

According to Stephen, there are eight elements to digital disruptive leadership: vision, humility, curiosity, adaptability, transparency, data dexterity, customer obsession and speed. ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re a sole trader or if you have 10,000 employees, you need to create products that create value for your customers, your shareholders and yourselves.  And you need to innovate to keep ahead of the rapid changes in customer needs and a competitive landscape.

‘Bigger businesses have to do this at scale.  You’ll need to look at the profile of talent in the business and start modifying it. You’ll need a deep understanding of technology and the trends impacting your space.  Customer expectations will develop at least every 12 months.  You’ll need to continually update your business model and look for new ways to create value or you’ll likely find that your business model will be destroyed.

‘You’ll need to be more curious and let go of your way of business.  Jeff Bezos’s mantra is that “it will always be day one at Amazon”. Recognise that the way you did things yesterday isn’t going cut it.  You’ll need a culture that will innovate quickly.  You’ll need to remove silos and redesign how you link culture, leadership development, innovation and incentives.  I often come across businesses who say they want their people to take more risks.  But they haven’t changed their culture or their remuneration system which is set up to punish people when they fail.’


The difference between Facebook / Google / Amazon and everyone else

‘Most business leaders today will tell you they’re customer centric.  When they have meetings, they’ll consider the voice of the customer. They’ll probably have set up customer advisory groups and conduct regular customer interviews.

‘This isn’t the same as being customer obsessed.  Amazon, Google and Facebook are customer obsessed and this is what distinguishes them. If you want to cut through in 2019, you need to become customer obsessed.

‘For example, I recently worked with a major airline.  I asked: “What’s the biggest point of friction for people flying internationally? What’s the most annoying part of air travel?”  The answer was obvious: “sleep”.  So, I asked what they knew about how much people slept on their planes.  And it turned out, not very much.  They’d conducted surveys and measured the change in survey results over time.  But this isn’t real data.

‘If Facebook, Amazon or Google were running an airline, they’d have installed sensors on the plane. Sensors so sensitive they could measure the quality of people sleeping from a few metres away.  And if these sensors didn’t exist, they’d invent them. They’d track every plane, compare every variable (oxygen levels, temperature, time of day, seat etc), and become a world-leader in sleep.  In time, this sleep science technology might make more money than air tickets.  This is customer obsession, and this is how great digital leaders think.’


Data is the new oil.  But what does it mean for me?

‘Our ability to access and use data is driving a seismic shift in consumerism.  In 1885, if you visited a country town, you’d find 100 different fizzy drinks all made within 10 kilometres from that town.  Then Coke came along with one product, one taste, one marketing, and the whole world gets Coke. 

‘Data is driving mass commodification backwards.  Until recently, we didn’t have the tools to collect and organise data in real time. Data used to live in big servers that very few people could access.  Now, confluence in computing power, advances in machine learning and cheap storage have converged, opening the possibility of machines driving intelligence.  

‘The best businesses in the world use data to create new products, and the pendulum is swinging back. These days, we can start with digital: your Facebook feed and your Netflix homepage is different from mine.  We don’t listen to the same radio anymore.  This trend is shifting to the physical - expect a million different flavours of Coke and a million different marketing messages all personalised for you.’


How businesses should react?

‘It’s worth considering how Facebook or Google might re-imagine your customer experience.  Think about what in practice you can do to become customer obsessed.  Should you be building capabilities in-house or should you be partnering?  Take a day to get under the hood of Google for Business, Facebook advertising and LinkedIn.  Make sure you know what data you’re collecting and how you’re using the data. 

My general advice for business owners is to look at yourself and consider the fundamental way you lead, and you learn.  Are you fast enough, are you customer obsessed enough, are you data-smart enough to succeed in the future?

Always look for opportunities to learn.  The world is changing.  You can either be pissed off about it or you can get out there and learn.’ 


Career advice for disruptive leaders

‘It’ll set you apart if you take the time to learn about technology.  Identify the new thing no one is thinking about yet in your business and learn lots about it.   For example, several years ago I worked in the auto industry.  When the iPhone came out, I learnt about it and asked how we could use it in our business.  I got approval to build an app for the company to use in its showrooms.  Apple approached us and said no one else in the world had built an app for enterprise sales.  We were the first!

‘In 2019, the most important attribute of a future leader is curiosity.   The world and business models are changing so quickly that no one will never win.  You need to be humble, admit that you don’t know everything and always look for opportunities to learn.

‘My other piece of advice to young leaders is to balance ambition and patience.  A lot of people have too much of one or the other. They’ll either stay in a role and let the best years of their career slip away or they’ll jump ship too often and never get career momentum.  Being in the right place at the right time is important.  If you can temper ambition with patience then you’ll end up more powerful.’

Spend a day workshopping your business and your career with Stephen.  His ‘Digital Disruptive Leadership’ intensive is limited to 15 participants in Sydney (22nd March) and Melbourne (20th March).  Places are filling up fast. 

Receive $200 off Stephen's leadership workshop  and all related workshops listed below using the promotional code 'Disruption' at checkout. Discount expires 8pm, Friday 8th March. 


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Avatar Susan Perkins
Very thought-provoking read

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