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Over the course of the past few decades, society has moved away from mechanical and analogue technology to embrace digitalisation. How many of us still even use an analogue alarm clock today when our phone is much more convenient?

The digital revolution brought new challenges and innovation on every single level, including how we run our businesses and lead our employees. That has never been truer than after the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How exactly has digitalisation impacted leadership roles in business? What makes a good digital leader, and what skills do you need to become one?

This article seeks to answer those questions and explore leadership within the context of digital transformation in business.

What Is a Digital Leader?

Every year, an organisation in the UK called Digital Leaders holds an awards ceremony to celebrate those who push the limits of digital leadership most. They aim to highlight and encourage leaders, who optimise and grow digital transformation. In the next section, we will learn more about digital transformation and what it entails for digital leaders.

But what exactly do we mean by digital leadership?

A digital leader is responsible for pushing their company towards benefiting from digital tools. They’re constantly working on improving the technological status quo and driving change.

This leadership role entails acquiring the digital skills and knowledge themselves and then passing it onto their employees. Their aim is to centre the company’s entire work culture around digital innovation to keep the business running as smoothly and effectively as possible.

Digital Leadership and Transformation

We can’t talk about digital leadership without noting its main objective – digital transformation. It describes a company’s goal is to transform internal or external operations to increase productivity and efficiency. The goal is to keep up with the times and take advantage of ever-evolving modern technology.

Digital transformation entails optimising processes you have already established within your business. At the same time, it also encourages fully restructuring how you run it. Depending on your industry and budget, making day-to-day operations as easy as possible improves productivity and efficiency.

Without leaders implementing fundamental changes to how their companies use digital technologies, a lot of businesses wouldn’t have survived the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a study about digitalisation in Europe during the crisis, 34% of non-digital EU companies invested in digital transformation to survive. The same study states that those companies who already were in the process of digital transformation further invested in it as well.

In short, digital leaders implement changes like this to keep up with the competition and adapt to modern challenges. If the COVID crisis proved anything, it’s that this trend of digital transformation will only continue to grow in the future.

What Are Digital Leadership Principles in Business?

Before we discuss the specific skills a digital leader possesses, we want to highlight three main principles. These are the overarching objectives and core values of digital leadership.

Agility

A digital leader aims to improve efficiency in their work environment. The ability to act quickly and easily is a key component to making that happen. Prioritise implementing changes that enhance that agility on every level of your business in terms of digital transformation.

Rethink every single decision around how exactly it improves your company’s agility in the face of adversity or even simple internal processes like communication within your team.

Innovation

Entrepreneurs are innovators, and the same is true for digital leaders specifically. With the necessary know-how, your digital leadership generates new strategies on how to run your business. This principle is diverse in practice, depending on your industry and work culture, but it is crucial in the digital transformation process. Digital leaders push the limits of digital innovation in business.

Sustainability

Having a new vision and strategy alone is not enough to secure success for your company. Digital leadership centres around making digital changes sustainable for you and your team. Design every single change with sustainability in mind.

This principle entails assessing how your employees implement your vision and calculating any future risks and costs. Will your company be able to continue using the new technology you introduce? Is your vision only doable for you personally, or did you put in the work to make it accessible for your entire team?

What Skills Does a Successful Digital Leader Have?

Success in any leadership position isn’t guaranteed unless you put in the work and learn the required skills. The principles we discussed are only one piece of the puzzle. In recent years, some universities in Europe have begun to offer courses and programs in digital leadership and communication for that reason.

We’ve created an overview of a good digital leader’s main qualities and skills.

Digital Affinity & Competence

A digital leader is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to technology. As a digital leader, you have a background in technology and are willing to always educate yourself more as tools and technologies evolve.

If you aren’t competent in your field, there is little hope for leading your team successfully and efficiently.  A digital leader is an expert in digital technologies.

Adaptability

As with other forms of leadership, a digital leader is highly adaptable. No matter what challenges your day-to-day work brings, always be willing to adapt. This plays into the digital competence aspect as well.

Technologies are ever-changing, which directly affects your digital leadership. Take change and innovation with grace and turn challenges into opportunities to learn and grow individually and within your business.

Risk Taking

A key quality for entrepreneurs and leaders, in general, is the willingness to take risks. If you’re risk-averse and prefer having reliable safety nets in place, being a digital leader might not be for you.

This skill doesn’t mean a digital leader recklessly plunges into risk left and right. It means that you must learn how to take calculated risks and deal with the consequences professionally and effectively. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or risks not paying off. Instead, make sure to calculate all potential outcomes beforehand.

Problem-Solving

You’ve taken a calculated risk and it didn’t work out the way you had hoped? Don’t let that deter you. As a digital leader, you’re good at problem-solving in a calm and collected manner. There is no value in panicking or engaging in disaster narratives.

Define the problem, analyse it, and produce a strategy to solve the problem. Any good leader learns how to apply their adaptability to problems that arise within their business. Without good problem-solving skills and an analytical eye, you are likely to fail as a digital leader.

Communication

Digital leaders know how to communicate on every level. Whether it’s reporting to a superior or communicating with your employees, it’s crucial to have excellent communication skills. Develop your vision for digital transformation at your company. Then, communicate with your team on how to turn it into a reality.

As a digital leader, you can be as digitally competent and innovative as humanly possible, but without the skills to communicate your strategy, you cannot be an effective leader.

Work Well Under Pressure

Regardless of what other roles and positions you have within your company, don’t let the pressure get to you. Keeping your cool even when the most difficult challenges present themselves to you is what makes you a good and successful digital leader.

As a leader, your team looks up to you for guidance, and your attitude will affect theirs. If you’re performing well under pressure, it encourages your team to follow suit.

Team Building

No matter how big your business is, your job is to ensure every team member implements your vision. That’s only possible if you have the skills to build a good team culture.

As a digital leader, create a good work environment and hold each team member accountable. Expect that they do the same with you. If every member works towards the same goal and follows your lead in terms of communication and work ethic, it’ll make your job of driving digital transformation much easier to accomplish.

Ambitious

As with entrepreneurs and other forms of leadership, a digital leader is an ambitious person. Perfection is hard to achieve in any aspect of life, but as a digital leader, keep pushing the limits of possibility in the digital transformation realm.

It’s not good enough to be content with the status quo. Prioritise working tirelessly on your company’s efficiency and agility in a digital leadership position. With that drive, you will inspire your team to always strive for more as well and thus, constantly improve operations.

Some of the qualities we listed overlap with those of a good leader in general. If you want to learn more about leadership, be sure to read our blog article “How to Become a Confident Leader.”

Conclusion

Digital leadership is an innovative form of leadership. Your responsibility lies within driving change in the digital technologies your company is using. With agility and sustainability in mind, pushing the limits of digital transformation is your main objective.

With the right set of leadership skills and digital competence, you will tackle any challenges and push the digital transformation agenda within your business.

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Daniel Dippold

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