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Top 6 Attributes of a Leader for the Digital Era

Top 6 Attributes of a Leader for the Digital Era

As we transition to the new year, it’s time to change the way we talk about digital transformation.  It’s time we put more actions in place to accelerate transformation.  We’ve exhausted the explanations, the reasons for, and repeatedly discussed why organizations need to transform digitally. The new narrative must now start to focus on the how-to part of the conversation. While there are many parts to this subject, it is clear that the role of the leader is instrumental.

Recently I came across this summation of the skills and capabilities needed for leaders in the modern workplace. In response to the question, “In the digital age, what does great leadership look like?” a group of panelists at Gartner’s Reimagine HR conference decided that “Agility, adaptability, and the ability to lead fast-paced change are the key skills that are becoming more important for leaders in digital enterprise.”

This answer expertly captures the essence that leadership is fluid, dynamic, ever-changing and not static. Acquiring and maintaining a leadership position, whether at the individual or organizational level, requires continuous research and adjusting, as well as practical application and execution. Possessing such qualities is especially true in today’s digital climate where external circumstances are constantly creating headwind or “new opportunities.”

To navigate these new territories requires a new approach. As the Korn Ferry Leaders for the Digital Age report suggests, for organizations to survive and thrive in the modern workplace they need a new profile of leader — a leader for the digital age.

The new leadership paradigm

“Digital sustainability isn’t a destination; it’s a new state of being. Leaders are the secret to inspiring the cultural change, but they must first transform themselves.” Leaders for the Digital Age 2018 

Two critical points distilled from the above statement are the fact that transformation itself is an ongoing effort; therefore leadership also must be an active, ongoing effort. Today’s leaders are working in an environment where the future destination is somewhat unknown.

Long gone are the days of moving from point A to point B, but instead, we are moving from point A while inventing point B. A mindset of recognizing that new paths to new outcomes may evolve along the journey is a trait successful digital leaders possess.

6 Characteristics of Digital Leadership 

  1. Leaders are agents of change

Leaders in the digital age must be agile, and more than that they must also be the agents of change.  Leaders today must nurture risk tolerance, take risks and learn from the outcomes. They must be willing to not only lead and manage change among their teams but within themselves as well.

  1. The customer is the priority

Organizations need to recognize that digital is transforming the entire business process, establishing a new customer ecosystem and serving as a constant reminder that the customer must be at the heart of all decision- making processes, particularly around the provision of new product and services. Decisions related to those new products and services are best informed by those who are closest to the customer. Such an approach is challenging for those organizations who associate leadership with a title. However, it is in their best interest if they recognize that the best source of data and insight to inform future decisions, apart from external data points may come from their teams.

  1. Leadership is inclusive

It’s time to stop thinking only about the traditional hierarchical leadership structure and start looking at leadership through a different lens. Organizations must identify influencers within both their industry and their organization, the people who know from first-hand experience what the issues and concerns customers have and give them a voice, some representation at the top.

  1. Leadership is no longer hierarchical

The leadership landscape has changed. Leadership now is all about collaboration and teamwork. Organizations need to provide their teams with new capabilities, tools, technologies and mindsets to drive new behaviors and outcomes. Above all, organizations and executive management need to trust their teams can make decisions.

  1. There is a new vernacular

To fully function and operate as a single unified digital force, one where technology and behavior development co-exist, leadership must develop and model a common vocabulary across the business.  Also, this shared language must include not only the new technologies but also, and perhaps more importantly, to a clear articulation of your organization’s digital transformation vision.

  1. There is shared accountability

Everyone has a role to play in the future-proofing of the organization. Leaders who act to create an environment where everyone understands and accepts their part in the narrative and those who share in the accountability by leading from a place of active participation are the ones who will rise to the top.

Digital is radically overhauling every aspect of business and how organizations operate. It’s a massive game-changer and determining just how it will disrupt your company is crucial.

Read Developing Digital Dexterity in Your Organization to learn how best to prepare your workforce for the digital age.


Kristin Shackelford is a Solution Principal, Organization Transformation | Digital Business and Leadership for Skillsoft.

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