The Most Desired Digital Leadership Skills and Why it is Important for a Digital Leader to Have Them
What Is Digital Leadership?
The meaning of digital leadership is broad and associated primarily with the process of digital transformation. While there is no concise definition of digital leadership, as well as clarity about the scope of responsibilities of a digital leader, the later is commonly expected
- to study the latest technology trends to spot opportunity,
- to provide the rationale for digital transformation making sure it is strategic and customer-centric, and
- to engage the employees in the process of technology upgrade.
The need to combine traditional leadership with deep understanding of emerging technology makes the environment for digital leadership volatile, uncertain, and complex. So, to know how to become a better digital leader, it is worth looking into the principles the best digital leaders subscribe to and traits they are expected to have.
What Are Digital Leadership Principles?
Despite the concept being around for more than a decade now, there is still little formal consistency in digital business leadership practices even in digitally mature companies. Yet, if we look closely at what successful digital leaders really do instead of fixating on academic definitions, it becomes apparent that they all rely on the same general principles:
To an extent, all four are probably more or less universal across the leadership domain – after all, the team will sense dishonesty and will not follow someone whose vision is not persuasive. By the same token, recognizing and responding to other people’s feelings and attitudes, as well as simply being there, was mandatory well before digitalization gained traction. Nevertheless, now that remote workplaces are the main component of success, genuine human connectedness is an invaluable asset, and it is up to digital leaders to fill this demand.
What Are the Digital Leadership Skills?
With leadership being as fluent and adaptive as it is, it would be impossible to arrive at a definitive and scientifically accurate list of properties. What would be possible, though, is to reach out to executives of digital organizations and ask about digital leadership skills they consider the most desirable. Luckily, such an inquiry has already been done by MIT Sloan. The four most popular traits were:
Now let’s look into why each of these traits is essential for digital leaders.
Being able to communicate the vision is nothing new in the leadership domain. No amount of incentives can capture the imagination of the team and drive their efforts as strongly as an aspiring image of the future.
This is especially relevant in the environment where enterprise mobility becomes the new normal and employee views and values of the workplace follow the trend of fragmentation. It is now up to the leadership to unite these perceptions and direct them towards the mutual goal.
With dozens of success stories about young and ambitious companies rising to success by simply being bold enough to do things differently, innovation has become the holy grail of digital leadership. There are dozens of reasons for it to be at the top of the list, and rightfully so. What is often missing from this popular image is the presence of an ecosystem that is both supportive of and forgiving to experimentation.
Traditionally, leadership is expected to be in charge of the former, inspiring and encouraging employees to think outside the box. However, it is only in the absence of punishment for failures (which go hand in hand with bold experiments) when innovation can truly flourish.
Despite being on top of the list, an inspiring and powerful vision is a double-edged sword. Simply put, it can bring the business to success as long as the leadership has it right – and the history is littered with unfortunate examples of the opposite.
This is why digital leaders should also empower the team to speak up, bring their own thoughts to light, and encourage the discussion. This trait is especially important in the age when customer expectations shift in a matter of years and doing things the old way can bring the company to its end even faster.
Succeeding on your own has always been an attractive idea, yet it moves further and further into the realm of fiction as the technology grows in complexity. Today, it is nearly impossible to release a commercially viable digital product without integrating it with other well-established services.
The problem is, each of those presents its own set of challenges that are difficult to solve on your own. While the digital culture offers all the necessary tools to establish collaboration between organizations, it is only through leadership practices that this potential can be enabled and propagated across teams.
Leadership through Strategy
As digital technology matures and finds its place in the business world, the sporadic approaches lose their appeal as strategy and planning take over. Leadership is not about moving fast and breaking things anymore – you need to actually understand how your transformation aligns with the organization’s processes. It is only through the development of relevant leadership skills, consistent strategy, and support of experienced and reliable partners that you can guide your team to success.