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The kinetic leader: Boldly reinventing the enterprise

Findings from the 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study

From being back-end support for firms to driving end-to-end change in firms: This is a story of the rise and rise of the tech leader. Deloitte's Anh Phillips and Khalid Kark mull the evolution of tech roles in business.

“We’re in uncharted territory right now. Being able to have someone step up and show them the way and show them what things could look like is critical.”
—Anh Phillips, Emerging Technology and Leadership Research leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP
“The amount of change and the rapid business transformations that are happening and the external events that are happening are almost forcing these companies to rethink organisations, rethink the way they put the operating models together. And therefore, it’s important for them to think about how are they equipping their talent to stay engaged, stay creative.”
—Khalid Kark, director for technology research, Deloitte LLP

Tanya Ott: There are a couple ways you can look at the current situation. You can hunker down and do the best you can … or, you can seize the opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about today on the Press Room.

Tanya: I’m Tanya Ott and before we get to COVID-19, I want to rewind a little bit because our entire conversation today is based on the new 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study by my guests Khalid Kark and Anh Phillips. Khalid is the director for technology research at Deloitte and Anh leads research around digital transformation at Deloitte Consulting LLP. Deloitte’s been doing this study for five years, and this year Anh and Khalid’s team surveyed more than 1,300 leaders across 69 countries and 22 industry sectors. I asked Khalid to give us a brief overview of the last five years—what’s stayed constant and what’s changed.

Khalid: We’ve periodically done point-in-time snapshots and every time we’ve done a snapshot, we’ve found something really interesting.

In 2016, when we did the global survey, there is a predominant push to make sure that technology leaders were in the background equipping their business leaders to operate at a high performance, whether that’s having a technology environment that’s consistent, that is scalable, reliable, secure and so on. In 2018, the predominant focus for a lot of the global participants was that there is a real need to partner with the business, to actually even cocreate with the business. We found a majority of CIOs, 64% actually, aspiring to be business cocreators. That was kind of a big push for a lot of tech leaders.

Now, in 2020, when we did the global survey and this was right before the pandemic hit, the predominant sentiment that we received was that—and again, 69% of the leaders fell in that category—that technology leaders not only need to provide a reliable, safe, secure, resilient environment, not only do they need to be cocreators and partners, but more and more the expectation was for tech leaders to really drive business change, to drive transformation efforts, rethinking the future of the business. So the 2020 survey really highlighted that element.

And then post–COVID-19, as we’ve had many of those conversations with CIOs, it has felt like that expectation has been accelerated many times, that not only are CIOs expected to be change instigators, they’re expected to really drive change end-to-end from envisioning to execution.

Tanya: I want to pull back for a moment from the actual technology leaders and look at the organisations. Anh, can you give us an idea of what we see in these high performing digital organisations?

Anh: First and foremost, they were very much focussed on growth as a top priority–not just hunkering down and conserving or being cost conscious, but really on how to grow the organisations. They do that through a focus on both customer and on innovation, [but] how do they concentrate on their customers? How did they continue to figure out ways to innovate for their customers in order to grow their business? Second, they have engaged leadership. They have board members who are tech savvy, who are engaged in technology conversations, who understand technology at a level where they understand the importance and the value that technology brings for their organisation. Finally, they have tech leaders who are really part of shaping that future and that strategy for the organisation. They’re not just executors of the organisation.

Tanya: So growth and innovation. And leadership, of course, is a really big part of that as well. Khalid, you were talking about that briefly when looking at the change in the orientation of what they’re focussed on, whether it’s just being a trusted person who can provide technology, being a business cocreator, or a change instigator. What are the attributes of these new type of technology leaders that the most high-performing companies are either employing or looking for?

Khalid: Great question and there are two sides to this. One is, there are baseline expectations: Any leader needs to have the leadership skills to rally their teams, communication and people skills to engage across their business lines and across their peer group and then the strategic and business acumen that [enable them] to understand and provide strategic advice. All of those in the past were in one way, shape, or form expectations that were very relevant to any leader. And for IT, for CIOs and tech leaders in general, those are still very, very valid expectations. But they’re all table-stake expectations today. We are seeing the emergence of roles such as chief digital office or chief data officer or chief technology officer having a broader purview than previously. More importantly, over the last few months, we’re starting to see this emergence of a chief transformation officer in many of the companies. The idea is for that person to be the visionary, the person who is driving innovation and cocreating solutions and new revenue sources, being creative, being agile, [having a] change orientation is a big part of it. Frankly, a lot of companies are risk averse. Understanding the risk appetite and making calculated decisions around risks are really, really important skill sets that our data is suggesting many of the executives are looking for in a successful leader. We call these kinetic leaders and they are important skill sets, but what’s important is to understand and calibrate —that’s the second element. Is your team actually equipped to handle that? That’s a whole lot of conversations we had and discussions we had around what is the relevant skill set. We found in our global survey that about a third of people within tech organisations today, at least based on what we’re hearing and seeing in the survey data, are not going to be relevant in three years. So how do you rethink your skills and talent is a big component of your ability to drive that change that we talked about?

Tanya: A third. That is quite significant.

Khalid: And by the way, that number stood firm across industries, across geographies, across kind of business and technology leaders, both saying that that’s the ballpark number, that if our staff continues with their current skill set a third are going to be not relevant going forward.

Tanya: So when you’re looking at this kinetic leader, what I hear you talking about is someone who’s got the big picture, but is also detail-oriented and can also put structures and teams in place that can execute. So it’s not all big picture. It’s not all execution. It's a really creative blend of the two.

Khalid: It’s actually a really good question. What is it? Is it a unicorn that we’re looking for?

Tanya: Exactly. That’s what I was thinking. I was like where do you find this person?

Khalid: We’re seeing different models emerge. What we are seeing is, for example, a lot of people who don’t have a traditional IT background being asked to lead the tech function or to lead a digital function because (it may be) easier for somebody to have that business context, to have that change- and learning orientation and delve deep into tech as a tool or as a way to execute on business strategy, than have somebody who’s really traditionally grown up in a silo and may not have the context. We’re seeing a lot of nontraditional career paths for technology leaders are emerging.

The second thing that we’re seeing is a lot of tech leaders actually stepping up. You would think that with all of this kind of pandemic and all the other kind of things that are thrown at a CIO, they’d be kind of disappointed and dejected by this point. But a lot of them are very, very hopeful. In fact, a lot of them are focussed on delivering real value and they feel that it’s their time to shine and they’re stepping up to go much beyond their traditional functional role into a business leadership role. For example, one CIO we talked to had multiple investments in startups because they wanted to stay ahead of the competition in their industry. Another CIO was investing in building a retraining and reskilling programme for their organisation, a multimillion dollar reskilling programme. Another CIO was rethinking learning and future of work for their organisations. What are the future roles going to be? What collaboration needs are there going to be? Which people are going to be in the office and which people may actually be okay outside of the offices? So there’s a lot of really great opportunities. The question is, are you willing to step up? If you’re not, you’re going to be stepped aside and other leaders are going to emerge to take that opportunity.

Tanya: As you allude to Khalid, it’s a really tall ask and not something that just happens. Anh, how do even the best leaders get there? What’s the work that they have to do to get there?

Anh: We’re seeing during this pandemic a bit of a test for leadership. We’re seeing a lot of them rise up. A lot of our technology leaders have the grounding and the foundation of understanding the technologies and, as Khalid mentioned, they’re working on trying to be a cocreator. It's a matter of digging deeper to find out how you can not just sit aside and partner, but really step forward and take the charge and create that vision. Having vision is the first step and being able to use technology to shape a path forward for your organisation is the key.

Tanya: I haven’t been counting how many times we’ve said “in this day” or COVID-19 in this interview so far. Obviously, business disruption is nothing new, but COVID-19 has really pushed all of us into some incredibly unfamiliar territory. I would love your thoughts on, as we’re looking at this huge disruption of 2020, what that means for what companies need to be doing going forward.

Anh: We did this study before COVID-19 hit, in late fall of 2019. The results pointed us to this idea of this kinetic leader. Now everything that this study is telling us is even more important: Having a leader who actually takes the reins, who’s willing to create a vision and chart a path forward. We’re in uncharted territory right now. [Having] someone step up and show them the way and show them what things could look like is critical.

Tanya: For some people, these uncharted territories will push them to just hunker down with what they’ve already known and they’ve already done. But you’re looking for a leader that’s doing something completely different than that.

Anh: That’s exactly right. What’s we’re seeing right now is people are willing to take more risks. We’ve been talking to a number of different executives and we’re hearing how they’re experimenting. They’re trying to figure out a way out. They’re actually innovating through this crisis. Many people have seen the memes out there about how digital transformation has really accelerated during this pandemic. A lot of it is because they are being forced to do so. It’s actually more of a risk to do nothing than to do something right now. So people are actually taking more risk than they used to.

Tanya: Can you provide an example of one of these companies that’s really taking a risk?

Anh: A lot of this is about small risk and innovation with a "small i" rather than a "big i." Restaurants, for example, having to pivot from doing in-room dining to being able to serve their customer needs through ordering online and then takeout and delivery. It’s about rethinking how you might serve customers in a retail environment and shifting over to more e-commerce. It’s about thinking about how do you actually operate as an organisation instead of being in an office all day? It’s even down to medical companies shifting the way that they actually deliver services to patients, (and) how doctors are performing more telemedicine these days. It’s pushing a lot of organisations to adopt more digital solutions and tools.

Tanya: Something you just said there resonated with me, this idea of pushing the organisations, but we’re talking a lot about what the kinetic leaders are doing. I’d love to flip that a bit and talk about how organisations can manage reacting to that, because if you have staff where 30% are not going to be skilled up if they don’t get additional training, they may be a little insecure about that, they may be a little insecure about all this disruption that’s happening. How do you advise companies to create a climate in which you can come in with a really aggressive, visionary idea for technology and bring the workforce along with them?

Khalid: I can jump in this one. There are a few clear dimensions in this study. The first is really the skill set. What a lot of leaders told us was that they were looking at skill sets. Of course, they need the technical skill set, but they’re actually putting as much emphasis on the softer skills in terms of hiring. The three skills that bubbled up to the top were creativity, cognitive flexibility and emotional intelligence. A lot of leaders said it’s easier for [them] to hire for those skills (than) trained people on tech. So there is a real shift in the way people are hiring based on softer skills and then training on some of the more technical skills, even within technology.

The second is rethinking learning. The whole traditional operating model of doing something within tech and throwing it over the wall to the business doesn’t work anymore. The amount of change and the rapid business transformations that are happening and external events that are happening are almost forcing these companies to rethink organisations, rethink the way they put the operating models together. Therefore, it’s important for them to think about how are they equipping their talent to stay engaged, stay creative. There’s a lot of work a lot of CIOs have done recently around employee engagement. Everybody’s got a virtual connection, everybody’s got collaboration tools. What about keeping the employees engaged? The one thing that we found last time we did the survey was it’s not salary. It’s not even things that that you offer as benefits. What keeps employees engaged is working on new and impactful initiatives for the company. Having roles that define and shape the future strategy and having teams that are co-created with technology and business and engineering and products coming together collaboratively with solutions, that’s going to be important. It’s a very different, nonhierarchical virtual team structure that needs to evolve to keep employees engaged and to keep your highest performing talent engaged within your organisation.

Anh: Especially in a time of crisis, in a time when you have to act quickly, in a time when you have to make decisions very quickly, it’s important to be able to push some of that responsibility and some of that ownership and accountability down into the teams where the rubber hits the road, so to speak.

Tanya: So are companies embracing this opportunity or are they in general hunkering down? What are you seeing out there?

Anh: We are actually seeing a lot of companies embracing it because they have to and that’s the only way to move quickly. When you have to, within a matter of days, get everybody equipment so they can go home and work. Or when you have to, within a matter of days, shift your model from in-person to now serving in contactless ways. In order to move quickly, you have to make those decisions. We talk to hotels who basically said that a lot of their local locations had implemented screens before they were actually told to. They took the initiative to do that.

Tanya: Are boards and CEOs still willing to take the risks that the CIOs might be interested in taking?

Khalid: The jury’s still out on that. Organisations have moved very quickly. We are seeing a lot of organisations coming out responding to the event very successfully. In fact, many tech leaders became heroes because the organisation didn’t realize the investments that they’d made over the years in virtualisation, in remote work, actually paid off. So there is a little bit of a celebration the past few months within the tech leadership community: We responded well, we recovered well from this disruption. The question, though, is, are we setting ourselves up for success in the long run by rethinking and reimagining the work and the workplace and the workforce? Some companies are taking pretty aggressive measures. Others are waiting because their risk appetite or the leadership’s risk appetite is still trying to figure out where to go. There is no question that there is a definite declaring success on the respond and recover. In terms of looking forward, I see some organisations already planning to rethink their business strategies, their approaches to customers and so on. Others are not as much. So we’ll see a very significant shift, but some companies are going to be left behind because they didn't act fast enough.

Tanya: So Khalid, you set up just a really good general question, which is you set up for me to ask you, what do you guys keep an eye on?

Khalid: Three things. First and foremost, how are the boards engaged? We’re seeing a lot of activity at the board level to understand the resilience posture for their organisations and put in place things in the long run that are going to help them. But a lot of them are also starting to think about future. The word that came up a lot previously was, we’re not going to be investing in net new growth, but we’re going to optimise our existing resources to address the current needs. There’s a lot of reallocation of capital that happened for executives. The first thing is how aggressive is the board in rethinking and reshaping the future of their business? We’ve shown through research that the more tech savvy the board, the higher the performance is of a company. So the board plays a huge role in this.

Second, how is the organisation reacting in terms of customer and employee experience? For the most part, a lot of organisations did really well reacting, but longer term, if, let’s say, work from home becomes a norm for 40% or 50% of your workforce, how do you make that work for things where you actually need collaboration? How do you add physical interaction or whiteboarding sessions and so on? Having the ability and the tools for employees and customers to engage in nontraditional ways is going to define the kind of successful companies and the ones that are not.

The third thing that we’re seeing that’s going to create a huge difference is the actual workforce and how significant a shift you’re able to make in terms of retraining, reskilling, making the right decisions around automating, outsourcing things that are not core to your business strategy and focussing on honing in on differentiating your organisation.

Tanya: Anh, this is something that you’ve written a lot, about this idea of automation and how it’s going to change the future of work. Now we’re in a new space from the last time you and I talked about that.

Anh: What we’re seeing is a lot of companies in the immediate aftermath have done what we call a lot of lifting and shifting. They have taken everything that was done physically and just moved it online. But in this next phase, there’s really an opportunity to do more than that. There’s an opportunity to rethink how work is done. To that point, how do you automate some of these tasks that have been previously done manually so that you can then reallocate what your employees are doing in a more value-added way?

How do you actually use this as an opportunity to rethink where you’re going? That’s what the best companies are looking at right now. Especially companies that are coming out of recovery right now, they’re starting to think, this is an opportunity. This was a big experimentation. It’s shown us that we could move in a certain way. It’s shown us that we can move quickly. You’ve heard of lots of companies experiencing a huge amount of transformation in a short period of time. It’s proven to companies that they can do that. So now the big question is, now that they’ve learned this, what will they do next? How will they chart a path for their future to take advantage of this as an opportunity to reset?

Khalid: Tech leaders have five very clear opportunities to help reshape the future of their business. The first and foremost is to focus on strategy and rethinking the future business strategy, whether that’s revenue lines or new markets or new capabilities or digital capabilities, etc. The second is convergence, which is looking at data that is residing in various parts of the organisation—IoT is a great example—where the data hasn’t been harnessed yet and to converge the IT and the operational data to hopefully create new revenue models for the business. The third is agility. Our Tech Vanguards are outpacing everybody else in terms of being more agile and nimble and responsive to changing business needs. Whatever the tech leader can do to enhance organisational agility becomes important. The fourth one is customer centricity and almost customer obsession: The idea of not just engaging with the customer after you’re done developing your product, but to keep them in your ecosystem and life cycle for developing and iterating on products and services and so on. And the last is what we just talked about, which is automation—not just automation in business processes, but also around the topics that maybe technology leaders haven’t thought about. How do you automate the tech stack? How do you create ways to bring more efficiency into the technology environment, to really free up people to think about creative ways of engagement with the business and creating that new value for the business?

Tanya: Thank you so much for the conversation today.

Khalid Thank you, Tanya.

Anh: Thanks for having us.

Tanya: Khalid Kark is director for technology research at Deloitte LLP and Anh Phillips leads research around digital transformation at Deloitte Consulting LLP. You can find their full 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study at

We have been taking a deep dive into some of the issues that the kinetic leaders that Anh and Khalid talked about are confronting—including how to improve the relationship between the tech and the finance functions:

Khalid: We did an exercise where we said, how would you describe your current tech leaders and what would be the ideal state? As you can imagine, there were a lot of interesting choice words being used. Out of the 25 or so people that were in the room, two or three had a positive word as a current state for how they viewed tech in general.

You can hear that conversation and more by searching for Insights In Depth: Tech Trends 2020 on your favorite podcast app.

We’re on Twitter at @DeloitteInsight and I’m on Twitter at @tanyaott1.

Thanks for listening and have a great day.

This podcast is produced by Deloitte. The podcast provides general information only and is not intended to constitute advice or services of any kind. For additional information about Deloitte, go to

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