DIGITAL LEADER – Digitalization is progressing exponentially. It is now strongly influencing our way of living and working. Every area and every sector is already affected by this transformation and the rapidly increasing pace of change. New value chains emerge, digital tools revolutionize service processes, routines and traditional communication pathways are being disrupted.
Most recently, the corona-pandemic caused a stir in the everchanging world of work. It forced us to revisit our traditional office setup and more and more incorporate digital tools into our every-day work. A recent study by the Fraunhaufer IAO and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Personalführung (“German Association for Personnel Management”) indicated that about half of all interviewed employees want to continue working full-time or at least part-time at home or remote. Understadbly, if we’re honest – who wants to give up that new-found freedom of being able to completely or partly choose their own workspace?
This “new normal” in our work, combined with rapid pace of change caused by digital transformation, requires a strong and especially innovative style of leadership: the digital leader.
You want to learn directly from experienced digital leaders? In our Founders Talks, top-tier entrepreneurs from the startup scene let you in on their secrets on how to build digital teams.
What Does “Digital Leader” Actually Mean?
If you google the term “digital leader” you won’t get a fast, definitive result about what qualififes a digital leader. Which is not surprising – how you could put an extensive definition on such a broad concept into two sentences?
If you try to slowly approach a definition, it makes sense to split the term into its constituents. A “leader” is a person in a company which is able to lead a team and take up responsibility for a department. So far so good. There are, of course, several more definitions and nuances for the term “leader”. The most crucial part in this context is the word “digital” because it connects the role of a classic leader with the requirements and changes of digitalization. By definition, a digital leader must tackle digital transformation, deal with rapidly changing working conditions through new technologies, and adapt these to teamwork and for company success.
Having said that, what is required from a digital leader? Which characteristics must a digital leader bring to the table to be able to meet these requirements?
Characteristics Of a Digital Leader
A true digital leader should be a pioneer in terms of digital tools and developments and always keep up-to-date about the newest technologies. A well-founded knowledge in the fields big data, marketing, and digital transformation is the most basic prerequisite for a digital leader. A digital leader should have the responsibility to break up organization silos within the company sturcture and promote hybrid collaboration.
Apart from hard skills such as the application of digital tools, a true digital leader should mainly possess soft skills for hybrid personnel management. Leading a team that is not working on-site, at the same location, nor at the same time is an enormous challenge for leader. This makes meeting situations difficult, team work messy, and sensitive conversation with employees tricky. According to the aforementioned study by Fraunhofer IAO, 65% of persons responsible for HR departments stated that the communication with employees takes up more time now, especially in personal interviews.
Digital transformation and rapidly changing work conditions have made several leadership skills all the more important: a type of communication that conveys appreciation, empathy, being accessible, and trust. Both charisma and persuasiveness are also essential traits of a digital leader – to embody the transformation in their own company and to be able to convince the team of new methods and tools
This raises the question: Aren’t all leaders nowadays digital leaders who must grow into their “new” role?
From Classic Leader To Digital Leader
If a manager is promoted to the role of digital leader, either by their own volition or by higher power, they have to reflect upon their previous style of leadership and adapt to the new role. Deloitte organizes the process from classical leadership to digital leadership into a 4-phase model:
- Growing awareness – The leader considers both the current state of digitalization in general and the state of their own company within its industry.
- Implementation – The leader defines the challenges that the company is faced with in terms of digital transformation and defines the required measures to meet these challenges.
- Transformation – The digital leader provides the team with all the necessary equipment and acquires the technology necessary to set the transformation in motion.
- Constant innovation – The digital leader constantly advocates for a culture within the company that promotes constant change and innovation and makes useful contacts in the ecoystem.
Lived Transformation on Management Levels
A digital leader’s role is visibly multi-faceted and demanding; for today’s leaders that is a hard crucible. It’s no wonder that many leaders do not feel prepared for digital transformation, according to studies by the Hamburg leadership consulting firm CEB and IT consultants Crisp Research.
Our Appeal is therefore:
Whether you work as an established manager in Mittelstand company or as a startup founder – take digital transformation seriously. Educate yourself, keep up-to-date about topics in digitalization and personnel management, reflect upon your work, adapt new technologies and, most importantly: Let your team be a part of that transformation.
Be sensitive when it comes to the changes and challenges your teams faces. Take your time to conduct personal meetings – especially if everyone works remotely – and pioneer the use of a digital leadership clture. That way, you will not only be able to keep your team happy and productive but you will also fill out your role as a digital leader who leads their company into the digital age.
You want to more know about digital leadership
from someone who has done the work?
In our Founders Talk, we have interviewed Trivago founder Rolf Schrömgens about his personal tips and ideas how to be a digital leader.
The term “digital leader”, despite its masculine connotation, applies to all genders in this article.