An exclusive chat with Deloitte’s Leadership Business’ Global Lead, Anthony Abbatiello.


While speaking with Anthony Abbatiello, Deloitte’s Head of Global Leadership, it was impossible to miss his zeal for illustrating what exactly will make a great leader in the digital age.

It doesn’t hurt that, as an adjunct professor at NYU, young leaders, his mentee, and his multigenerational students are the apples of his eye.

“I teach a graduate program. What’s amazing to me is what I learn from my students. I’ve always learned a lot about their desires. It’s a multigenerational classroom, so you have baby boomers that are late in career who are looking for ways of investing in their development.

“Then you have GenXers and millennials—for them, it’s advancement and making that next step. What’s interesting is the younger students, the digital natives—the Gen D’s if you will—they’re looking at stability more than anything,” Abbatiello explained.

“You look at the population, they came into this world right before the recession, so they probably saw parents losing jobs maybe once [or] twice, they’ve seen this curve of different movements in global markets. And there’s no guarantees—at least the perception is that there are no guarantees.”

There’s a renewed value in really investing in careers and education that will bring stability.

He pointed out, “You see so much around healthcare providers—not being medical doctors, but being a care provider—knowing that there will always be jobs for that career. It’s been a really good lesson for me in seeing that appreciation for education, for stability and how that can play into the next generation of the workplace.”

During our chat, I had to chance to dive even deeper into the future workplace implications of Deloitte’s 2017 “Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age” report on global human capital trends.“That challenge for companies can be how do we take hold of human capital and combine that with this cognitive world/nature in the future of work so we can manage this more effectively?”Bold Leaders in the Digital Age
Back during a 2016 Business Insider interview, Abbatiello pointed out a list of the top things bold leaders do.

He called for leaders to set ambitious goals, propose potentially controversial ideas, invite feedback from colleagues at all seniority levels, innovate and seek new ways of doing things, take risks, and build strong teams to empower toward success.

Are there any major shifts to expect from the next generation of workers to anticipate in the coming years? Yes and no.

The pace of technology and the rate of recent technology advancements is advancing from Moore’s Law.

“What we saw was every 18 to 24 years, computing power would double,” explained Abbatiello. “What we’re seeing is that pace goes even faster.

“There’s no one way a leader or executive can stay on top of everything. You have this reverse mentoring, where one is able to coach and advise cross-generational members of the workforce, but also getting advice from them as well.

He exemplifies this manifesto and coaches a young “high performer”. Abbatiello often finds himself asking this young man where he gets his news from.

“What’s your favorite media channel? What are you hearing from graduates from universities today? What would you change about the last five years of your career?”

Abbatiello wants to understand a pace he’s detached from: a new, lightning-speed rate of how everything comes at individuals today and younger generations’ focus and ability to bring that into the digital workplace.Back during a 2016 Business Insider interview, Abbatiello pointed out a list of the top things bold leaders do.

Moore’s Law
Referring to an observation made by Intel Co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 when he noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits was doubling each year since their invention. Moore’s law predicts that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future and became the golden rule for the electronics industry and a springboard for innovation.

Inspirational Companies
The challenge for companies now is centered around cognitive computing and the cognitive technologies that are augmenting the workplace.

“When you think about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and smart manufacturing, true robotics and AI, and automation,” Abbatiello noted, “how then do we translate that into customer needs or customer expectation when we’re moving faster? How do we translate that into new product design or better throughput in the manufacturing process?

“That challenge for companies can be how do we take hold of human capital and combine that with this cognitive world/nature in the future of work so we can manage this more effectively?”

He put it this way, “Companies really have to up their game in how they’re training and investing in the development in the workforce to get them prepared for the digital organization.”

Inspiring Brands
Which brands are working on mastering how to work within and manage really, truly diverse workforces? Look to what Ford has been up to.

Deloitte’s case study on Ford found that effective leaders seek feedback in a proactive and iterative fashion, incorporating the ideas they receive into synergistic solutions while paying attention to feedback that comes from both junior and senior colleagues.

“When Alan Mulally took over as President and CEO of Ford Motor Company in 2006, he faced a tough reality. Ford was facing lost market share and serious production problems. In an effort to address these problems head on, Mulally began encouraging his team members to speak up about challenges early and often, rather than waiting to see if they could fix them alone.”

During the transition, Mulally was an “energizing and positive force”, and as Ford’s team began to respond, he quickly praised their honesty and offered help—no assigning blame.

Shifting from classically stoic leadership standards and engaging in open communication from his team gave Mulally a proactive opportunity to overhaul Ford during the 2008-2009 recession and avoid any of the direct government intervention that was imposed on countless Ford competitors.

“How do I create these experiences for my employee that are commensurate to what we are expecting them to do and think about for our consumer? That’s the Holy Grail in many ways,” Abbatiello shared.

“Ford has done such a great job creating a product that is a high-quality automobile, but just is infused with technology to the point now where it’s mobile technology more than it is just an automobile.”

Priceless Human CapitalAs the Deloitte report pointed out, technology is critically important, but human capital remains indispensable. Today the concept of “leader as hero” no longer scales.As the Deloitte report pointed out, technology is critically important, but human capital remains indispensable. Today the concept of “leader as hero” no longer scales.

“Highly effective companies such as Google, Lyft, WL Gore, Mastercard, and Atlassian look at leadership as a team effort and recruit leaders who can work together, complement each other, and function as a team,” Deloitte reported.

On the front lines, Mastercard is bringing leaders together for collaborative design and problem-solving exercises while challenging them to understand how different business functions, industries, and technologies come together to form solutions. Abbatiello loved how Mastercard’s team worked to craft leadership and transformation as a technology company.

“The days of a line leader reaching the executive level in a sole function have ended.”

New companies can look forward to thriving in an era that welcomes change according to a whole new rulebook for business and HR in the digital age. When you zoom out on the experience of retraining and knowing how to manage this truly diverse workplace, Abbatiello believes that as the digital organization makes this shift there are five key considerations in focus.

  • The Organization
    What does it mean to be digital? That organizational element: everything from network of teams, building guilds, and having flexible, multidimensional teams that come together, work, and then disband.”
  • The Digital Workforce
    “What are the critical skills that you need? What do the workforce capabilities need to be? How are you developing the skills that will be required to operate in a world that is cognitive technologies with AI and robotics together in an HR function, in a finance function.”
  • The Workplace
    “How are you designing the simply irresistible organization for the future? And how are you looking at what’s needed in the interactive design of the workplace—everything from how do we communicate and operate as a team when we’re virtual, remote, we’re in video, but also when the workforce is made up of different models, comprised of employees and third party relationships, vendors, flexible workforces, and freelances, how do we bring that all together in a common workplace that may not just be the studio you’ve normally gone to in the past?”
  • Digital HR
    “Not just HR in the cloud, but how does HR become the backbone of the workforce, bringing that infrastructure and experience to the workforce and tying it all together. Looking at culture, engagement, and the employee experiences is required. How do we bring all these things like robotics and cognitive together for the workforce and the workplace?”
  • Digital Enablement
    “How do we think differently about how we’re enabling the digital organization of the future? It’s not just managing change. It is really looking at digital enablement and how do you measure and manage the performance of the organization that you’re making your way—you’re not just becoming digital because it’s a fad—but because it’s required for you to operate or compete in the new world, and in the future of work you have to enable all of these outcomes for the organization.”

So if future leaders are ahead of the game on one thing, there’s no stability.

Leaders looking, take note. “Remaining as a great digital leader in the digital age, they have to think, act, and react differently,” Abbatiello mused.

“All these things really make the difference on the leader that’s required in the digital organization as we rewrite the rules for work of the future.”

Innovation and risk-taking now define high-impact leadership. “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” -Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg