What Digital Leaders Most Need to Overcome Modern Challenges
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Today’s business leaders are busy. Their companies expect them manage digital change, to lead digital initiatives, and to motivate employees in both virtual and in-person environments. These are huge challenges that digital leaders must overcome. Therefore, it is imperative to develop digital leadership for all industries.
The payoff is enormous, it’s clear. Prior research has shown that digital leadership skills can improve well-being, lead to greater corporate productivity and increase profitability. Lack of leadership is the biggest challenge to digital transformation.
However, many companies struggle to develop digital leadership skills. Many companies place technologists in leadership positions, while others give complex digital programs to traditional leaders. Both can lead to disaster.
Digital leaders should have a combination of digital literacy and traditional leadership roles. They need to learn new skills to manage remote workers in virtual environments. In particular, they need to learn:
- How to cope with the challenges of digital change
- Where digital leadership differs from traditional leadership
- How to adapt to post-pandemic norms for remote work
Fortunately, all three skills can be learned and developed.
How to cope with the challenges of digital change
For digital leaders, one of the top goals is to lead the company through digital transformation. Executives must learn how to deal with digital change. While technology can be a business accelerator, it can also add distractions and stress to employees’ daily lives. Technology for the sake technology can also be detrimental to a company’s operations.
The modern digital leader must have the ability to deal with digital change. In one study, researchers found that the top skills to cope with the challenges of digital change are:
- Ability to think and act entrepreneurially
- Self-organization and IT skills
- Profound ability to motivate others
- High degree of flexibility, commitment and creativity
Thinking entrepreneurially can help with information overload when multitasking, while self-organization skills are critical for managing the issue of being permanently available. Training programs can also teach skills like IT competency and the ability motivate others.
Leaders must encourage collaboration among their teams, especially when they work remotely. Flexible, creative and committed leaders are more likely to create innovative solutions for their teams.
Where digital leadership differs from traditional leadership
Imagine two senior leaders. One is a likable and charismatic founder who inspires employees but dreads keeping up with digital trends. The other is a brilliant technical genius who routinely scolds employees for asking questions, and becomes impatient when subordinates don’t meet his expectations. Which one is better equipped to lead a company’s digital transformation? The answer is neither. The first leader lacks digital literacy, while the second lacks core leadership capabilities. Leaders may not be able to deliver on the digital transformation promises without both.
We should also examine the differences between digital leadership and traditional leadership, as well as where there are common ground. One five-year study has examined the difference between digital leadership and traditional leadership.
Laying out where digital leadership differs from traditional leadership, the authors found that the top three capabilities that are unique to digital leadership are:
- Providing a transformative vision and forward-looking perspective
- Understanding digital literacy through a generalist lens
- Staying open-minded, adaptable and innovative, in case the technology and the business landscape evolve in unanticipated ways
In addition, the authors found that the top capabilities that digital leadership shares with traditional leadership include:
- Explaining why the company needs to change, and then making the proper time, energy and money to foster success
- Owning the transformation, rather than delegating digital transformation to technology specialists
- Equipping employees to succeed by empowering them to execute critical initiatives and by providing adequate training
Thus, it seems that the two previous executives could learn a bit from each other. The charismatic executive should be able to communicate a transformative vision through digital literacy. Technical geniuses could benefit from training in motivating others and helping employees to succeed.
How to adapt to post-pandemic norms for remote work
While remote work existed long before the pandemic, Covid-19 produced a seismic shift in how employees collaborate. While business leaders debate whether permanent remote work is better or return to the office, it is clear that digital leaders must be flexible to accommodate different working styles and preferences.
How has the pandemic impacted our expectations of digital leaders in the future? A systematic review of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on digital leadership found that personality traits for digital leaders are largely consistent with traditional leaders.
However, among the differences, they found that for digital leaders managing remote workers:
- The skills most distinctive for digital leadership are trust-building, coaching and change management
- Adaptability and risk-taking are more important
- Cultural, social and emotional intelligence is also more important
- Extraversion and charisma become less important
Thus, compared to traditional leadership, social intelligence becomes more important, while general intelligence is relatively less important. Trust-building and coaching skills are more important than ever because it is so difficult to build a team and address individual concerns in virtual environments. Extraversion and charisma, on the other hand, have less impact in virtual settings. There are fewer social cues.
Finally, digital leaders need to acquire the technical skills necessary to develop digital literacy. When it comes to motivating employees towards achieving a common goal, change management is more important that technical expertise.
Takeaways on what digital leaders most need
In conclusion, the skills that digital leaders today draw extensively from traditional leadership skills. Leaders must still take ownership, motivate employees and manage change. There are important differences in what digital leaders need.
Technologists will be surprised to learn that traditional leadership skills are more important than technical skills in managing digital change. However, traditional leaders who are moving into digital roles must develop core digital literacy and an entrepreneurial ability to deliver a transformative vision as well as greater cultural, social, and emotional intelligence.
Both technology professionals and traditional leaders can learn the skills necessary to face modern challenges.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.