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The 7 Core Traits of Successful Digital Leaders

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Digital leadership is more than simply possessing a strategic, forward-thinking mindset—though that is, of course, essential.

It is also, at its core, a way of being and doing that challenges outmoded models of management centered around capital-“L” Leaders issuing decrees to people-drones who are encouraged to execute rather than think.

In contrast, today’s most effective leaders nurture a digitally enabled workplace where data is democratized and decision-making is decentralized empowering them to tap into the most potent advantage any team or organization has at its disposal: The ability of human minds, alone and in concert, to create new ideas and solve problems.

Adopting and strengthening the following seven traits can help ensure that you land on the right side of that leadership divide in an ever-evolving, digitally disruptive world.

A digital leader is a human being first.

Though operating in a technology-enabled landscape which can be devoid of human empathy or emotions, digital leaders need to come from a place of caring for the people in the organization. The most important part of an organization is its people. True leaders serve the people and not themselves. A digital leader, when bringing digital changes in the organization, needs to think about what they can do to make their teams better, happier, more productive and engaging in the new environment. Digital leaders are teachers, mentors, advisors; someone you strive to be and emulate.

Digital leaders aspire to inspire.

Digital leaders aren’t just following technological trends; they are envisioning possibilities that don’t exist yet. Transforming skeptics into early adopters requires creative ideation, aspirational thinking, and cheerleading. It is the job of the digital leaders to keep the team motivated and engaged while tackling the big challenges that at times can seem overwhelming. They must be able to not only create and ideate but inspire.

A digital leader tells the tale.

Be the beacon of all things digital. Leaders who are experts at communication and storytelling throughout the digital transformation process build engagement and win over employees. A digital leader’s story needs to be compelling and relevant. Stories carry emotions, which help digital leaders connect to and motivate others.

Digital leaders are agents of change management.

The “why” of a digital program within an organization must be integrated into the organization’s overall vision and purpose. Digital is often perceived as an unwelcome disruption, as people fear the changes will affect their jobs, their future, and the future of the organization. They need a convincing reason to get on board. They need to believe before they engage. They need to realize digital is the present and future. The leader can play an important role in managing and selling the change.

Digital leaders make digital a priority for the entire organization.

Digital offers a world of opportunities for organizations to become more efficient and drive greater revenue streams, but not enough companies are capitalizing on it due to a lack of digital leadership. Competing priorities have long been a top obstacle in digital transformation programs, which are in competition with other enterprise initiatives and, as a result, are not always sufficiently resourced. Digital leaders must clarify the role of digital, secure the required funding and drive the organizational vision and long-term strategy.

Digital leaders facilitate a culture of support and risk-taking.

Digital leaders must support and encourage experimentation. Many enterprises have taken the cautious first step of creating innovation labs where dedicated cross-organizational teams work on new ideas. The labs become showcases for visitors and internal staff and are intended to show new, innovative ways of working. The labs need to produce real, meaningful new products and services that drive revenue while making the organization—and, no pressure, the world!—a better place. A critical component of encouraging this experimental mindset is to break out of bureaucracy. The digital leader can play a major role in this. Making processes and policies intrapreneur-friendly is a still deeper change.

Digital leaders are not only leaders of digital, but leaders of data.

Data is critical to driving digital initiatives. Digital transformation requires that organizations look at data in an entirely new way so they can identify ways to monetize it and reinvent business models to create new revenue streams. This requires leaders who will invest in and implement “new” data platforms of the future – platforms that can bring together data effectively as needed, from wherever it is stored, whether inside or outside the organization. It also requires a new understanding of customer experience and how to use customer data to deliver personalized experiences.


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