What is Digital Leadership? – Definition, Examples, Skills, Qualities

Learn the definition, importance and benefits of an effective digital leadership and digital leader in achieving business goals

What is Digital Leadership?

Digital leadership is the strategic use of a company’s’ digital assets to achieve business goals. This can be dealt with both organizationally and at an individual level. Looking at it from an individual level, this is often carried out by those responsible for overseeing the digital assets.

An effective digital leader will be aware of the business goals and knows how their job responsibilities support it. At an organizational level the digital leader could for example be a company that has successfully taken advantage of their digital assets to gain and also maintain a competitive edge. These digital leaders will explore how technology can be used to help their business become much more responsive to the needs of their customers and the ever-changing business requirements.

A successful digital leader understands the importance of inbound data and the processes within the business that supports it. They place high value on their communication, creativity and willingness to explore the ways that new emerging technology and digital information can be used to help business projects.

It’s also important to also understand exactly what digital transformation means to help understand the role of a digital leader. Essentially this is the use of new, fast and frequently changing digital technology that is here to solve problems. So why is digital leadership so important? Firstly, effective digital leadership helps an organization to create workflow and business processes that allow these new technologies, products and services to be rolled out quickly whilst also making sure that any existing legacy applications and IT operations are being maintained. But what exactly are the benefits of this digital leadership?

  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 giving them the right tools available to them.

Example: Let’s take Google Drive as an example. Companies can use Google Drive to create and access specific documents which contain specific information. 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. Makes employees more productive – the tools provided to your organization are designed to increase productivity levels, however, without a 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 concentrate on using it straight away.
  2. Improves customer satisfaction – a satisfied customer will have no reason to leave your business for a competitor, but a dissatisfied one will have several reasons. Digital leadership can help this by improving and introducing convenience, speed and customer support, for example. This in turn makes a customer increasingly satisfied with your product or service.
  3. Increases revenue – it’s simple, serving more customers in less time is an effective recipe for making more money within your business. There are many ways that digital leadership can help increase revenue. Some of these are:
    1. Improving retention rate: when you can better serve your customers with digital tools, they become increasingly satisfied and turn into loyal customers.
    2. Increasing the number of customers served: digital tools help you to serve your customers at a lower operational cost.

Related article: Complete Guide to Digital Psychology

What are Digital Leadership Skills?

In today’s world, digital leadership is an obvious balancing act which requires a very unique set of skills to drive success for that leader, organization and overall workforce. It’s been reported by Deloitte that 42% of major companies now believe that it is increasingly important to develop in leaders and that success in this digital age heavily depends on it. So what skills are required of digital leaders?

  1. Communication – by using 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: A perfect example are 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 lasest changes and can communicate any information virtually.

  1. Vision – with a strong and clear vision it’s easier to get your workforce onboard with you, when they believe what you believe. This is arguably one of the traits that makes digital leaders stand out from the rest.
  2. Digital Literacy research from a Harvard Business Review with 1,000 CEO’s, it showed that 90% believe their business is being disrupted or reinvented by digital business models. But when asked about their capabilities, 70% believe they do not possess the right skills, leader or operating structure to adapt.One of the problems facing industries are with older generations having to learn new technologies, better known as ‘digital immigrants’. It’s important for digital leaders to get to grips with technology and the tools and bring the entire workforce along with them.
  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 nurture a digital culture internally, ready to embrace changes. In order for this to actually happen, a coherent strategy outlining the digital agenda is crucial.
  4. Innovation – the digital landscape is ever evolving in the digital age and leadership must be willing to try out new technologies and in order to do so, be flexible and adaptable with their approach in creating a digital workforce. There are often calculated risks involved, for example, trying out new systems before any other businesses where you have little evidence or examples of success, but the rewards could be extremely beneficial. This leads us into the next point, risk-taking.
  5. Risk-Taking – putting speed and innovation ahead of previously tried and tested technology is something that organizations can be cautious of. Risk taking is however 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 happen in an industry or business it’s important that a digital leader can remain adaptable and ready to make decisions that will have minimal impact on the business. Forbes believes that adaptability is one of main skills for a digital leader. 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 potentially lacking. People are just as crucial as technology.

It should be clear from what has been outlined above but leadership is an extremely important function of any management, helping to maximize efficiency to achieve business goals. Good leadership can influence and drive your workforce forward, towards completing goals.

GDS - A Blueprint for Digital Leadership - Digital Leadership Skills

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 breaches can 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.

Relevant article: Microsoft’s Digital Transformation Journey

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:

Digital Roadmap for Digital Leadership

  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.

Relevant article: Lessons for disruptive leadership: Stop ignoring the elephant


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.

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