Article - IT

What is Digital Leadership

Jack Bray - Content Marketing Manager at GDS Group By Jack Bray|18th May 2022

When discussing digital leadership it’s necessary that we distinguish the difference between digital leadership and the digital leader. Digital leadership describes the strategic use of a company’s’ digital assets to achieve its business goals. A digital leader is the individual that sets the use of those assets in motion and tracks the success of their application.

With this in mind, an effective digital leader will be aware of the business goals and knows how their job responsibilities support it. These digital leaders will also explore how technology can be used to help the business become more responsive to the needs of their customers and their ever-changing business requirements. In line with this, digital transformation – the use of new, fast and frequently changing digital technologies – is the means by which the digital leader will drive this success and this is why its critical to have digital leadership in place.

Clearly then, digital leadership is important as it helps an organization to create workflow and business processes that allow new technologies, products and services to be rolled out quickly. As well as innovation though, it also helps make sure that all legacy applications and IT operations are being maintained. This is the top-level value of digital leadership, so what are some of the more niche benefits?

  1. It Builds a Digital Culture – Different departments within a business will require different digital tools to improve their work. Having an effective digital leader helps to make this happen within your organization by giving teams access to the right tools at the right time.

Example: Let’s take Google Drive as an example. Companies can use Google Drive to create and access documents containing specific data. Additionally, employees that work remotely can collaborate and share documents via this platform. Each edit that is made is saved and people can see who added, removed or changed any information in real-time.

  1. It Enables Employee Productivity – The tools provided to your organization are designed to increase productivity levels, however, without digital leadership to drive this, employees could struggle to implement and get the most out of these tools. Digital leadership ensures that your workforce can focus on using technology safely and in line with business needs.
  2. Improves customer satisfaction – A satisfied customer will have no reason to leave your business for a competitor, but a dissatisfied one will have many. Digital leadership can help this by improving convenience, speed and customer support opportunities. This will make a customer increasingly satisfied with your product or service.
  3. Increases revenue – Serving many customers quickly is the best recipe to make more money for your business and there are many ways that digital leadership can encourage this:
  •                Improving Retention Rate: when you can better serve your customers with digital tools, they become increasingly satisfied and turn into loyal customers.
  •                Increasing the Number of Customers Served: digital tools help you to serve your customers at a lower operational cost.

What are Digital Leadership Skills?

In today’s world, digital leadership is an obvious balancing act that requires a unique set of skills to drive success for the leader in question, their organization and overall workforce. It’s been reported by Deloitte that 42% of major companies cite leadership development as a core focus, and that success in this digital age heavily depends on it. But what qualities should a digital leader embody?

  1. Communication – Through technology, digital leaders can build a strong network of communication from the top to the bottom of the business. To implement this, digital leaders must have a strategy in place and understand who they are addressing.

Example: Virtual meetings. Considering that managers have tight schedules and can be out of town, virtual meetings enable them to attend meetings within their company virtually. This way they are updated with the latest changes and can communicate any information virtually.

  1. Vision – With a clearly defined vision it’s easier to get your workforce onboard with the needs and expectations of the business, as they’ll come to believe what you know. This is one of the pivotal traits that makes digital leaders stand out from the rest.
  2. Digital Literacy – Organizations know that their businesses are being disrupted and reinvented by digital business models, but many do not believe they possess the skills, leader or operating structure to adapt. We need executives that are aware of these needs in the business. As Deloitteput it, we need a “different kind of leader,” one that is younger, more agile and aware of the various challenges that may well face them in their role.
  3. Strategy – The most successful digital leaders will not only have a very clear vision for the future, but also a strategy in place that helps them to nurture a digital culture internally, one that’s ready to embrace change. In order for this to actually happen, a coherent strategy outlining the digital agenda is crucial.
  4. Innovation – The digital landscape is ever-evolving and leadership must be willing to try out new technologies that help their teams to grow. In order to do so, leaders need to be flexible and adaptable with their approach in creating a digital workforce. There will be calculated risks, e.g. adopting new tech before competitors or results, but the rewards could be of great value. This leads directly into the next point, risk-taking.
  5. Risk-Taking – Putting speed and innovation ahead of tried and tested technology is something that organizations must be cautious of, however, risk taking is a crucial part of digital leadership. This was supported by Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, who stated that “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”.
  6. Adaptability – When changes occur in an industry or business it’s important that a digital leader can remain adaptable and ready to make decisions that will reduce impact on the business. A leader who is unwilling to change or be proactive will condemn the business.
  7. Talent Spotting – Digital leaders need to be able to spot the areas within their business that need to be improved and where talent is lacking. People are just as crucial as technology.

It should be clear from what’s been outlined above, but leadership is an essential function within the management of any business. Effective leadership helps maximize efficiency in order to achieve business goals and it can also influence and drive your workforce forward, towards completing goals.

Digital skills involve the knowledge but also ability to understand information needs from digital technology sources and also to use digital tools and facilities to input, organize and integrate digital resources. There have been lots of articles written in the past about the varying skills in digital, but three repeatedly stand out which are essential for digital leaders to possess or consider in their strategy.

These are:

  1. Programming – these aren’t just for developers. This is a crucial skill for digital leaders who need to have the basic understanding of programming in order to support their projects.
  2. Project Management– being able to effectively coordinate people, budgets and resource is one of the best technical skills you could possess. A good project manager will be able to deliver projects efficiently and deploy the correct staff to complete tasks. The importance of this is that by having the correct people it can help solve problems that may occur on the way.
  3. Analysis of Big Data & Business Intelligence– this gives businesses the vital information they can use to retain market share as well as defining their competitive advantage. Big Data analysis plays a crucial role in business process. Evaluating large data sets is important to help identify correlations, highlight valuable customers as well as assessing ROI. Correct analysis of this data results in more effective sales and also increased opportunities to generate revenue.
  4. Information Security– security is an area of great concern in all businesses. Data breachescan have severe impacts from the loss of customers to damage of the brand reputation. Therefore, it’s crucial to have technical security specialists that all digital leaders must consider.

Planning your digital roadmap in digital leadership

It’s crucial for all digital leaders to implement a digital roadmap. This is a high-level document that outlines the business goals and identifies the digital initiatives that can help them to get there. Essentially, it’s the blueprint for actions that are all aligned to the digital strategy.

It will consist of short term and long-term objectives. It should define which key stakeholders are accountable for what. It should provide clear, concise guidance on the initiatives that the business needs to prioritize and should then be shared across the business. So how do you set about creating your digital roadmap? Here’s a few helpful steps:

  1. Define your digital strategy– you need to start with a clear vision of exactly what you want your digital strategy to achieve. This could be things such as brand amplification, increase sales revenue or improve customer experience. Take these goals and define your digital strategy.
  2. Decide on timeframe– once you have your strategy written and defined it’s important to decide when you’d like to achieve it by. Your digital roadmap should outline when you want elements of the project complete and the overall project. It’s important to be realistic too.
  3. Identify stakeholders– in order for your roadmap to be a success, you need to define who will be responsible for what and keeping it on track. The digital leader needs to ensure the stakeholder is invested and engaged in the strategy too.
  4. Set KPI’s– this is vital if you want to assess and measure the success of your strategy and also recognise when elements are falling behind and might need to evolve. Data is crucial to this.

Progressive leadership

Progressive leaders are those who look outside of just their organization and have a greater view. They look at potential problems and turn them into opportunities. They must consider the welfare of their workforce and customers before anything else. There are certain qualities that a progressive leader will possess, and this includes:

  1. Setting the example– setting an excellent example of leadership allows you to set the stage for the type of leadership you expect and want to see in your business. It also creates an expectation that you want others to follow.
  2. Sharing their vision– what exactly is your vision for the future of your organization? You can’t expect your workforce to follow if they don’t believe or understand it. Collaboration is essential, it reassures everyone is on the same page and all working towards achieving the same goal.
  3. Celebrating success– honouring success shows gratitude to those who achieve it. People are motivated by their successes. Recognizing victory reinforces those actions and in turn results in this being repeated by the overall organization.


So, what does it take to be a leader? Hopefully this article has outlined the qualities and required traits of a digital leader but to summarize, we’ve repeatedly seen that setting an example for others to follow, sharing your vision with the business and possessing digital leadership skills are key traits. Good communication skills and decision making also play a key role in the success of a digital leader.

GDS Group hosts experts to help experts. We strive to provide an atmosphere for our attendees that enables them to confidently lead their companies through major transformation projects. For information on upcoming events, view our Technology Summits and Executive Events. To remain current on our activities, visit GDS Group on LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter.

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