"The only constant in the universe is change" - even though Heraklit's words are now several thousand years old, they have lost neither their accuracy nor their relevance. The world of work is in a constant state of change, accelerated by numerous driving forces: such as individualised performance, advancing globalisation, demographic change and, above all, digitalisation.
Rethinking is required to meet the demands of the times. But how do you lead a company through the digital transformation? This requires leaders who exemplify change, break away from outdated (thought) structures and are able to convince their employees of the advantages of the new - so-called digital leaders.
What exactly are the role and tasks of digital leaders? What skills should they have? And how does one actually become a digital leader? I would like to answer all these questions today.
What does the role of the digital leader look like?
In order to remain competitive in the future, most companies have to initiate and undergo fundamental transformation processes. The task of the digital leader is to accompany and organise this development. The mindset of the workforce is crucial here. If employees reject change, a company will hardly be able to go through the transformation in all areas. Good digital leaders therefore take on a pioneering role and simply live the change.
They use a variety of modern methods to lead their employees; classic hierarchical structures are obsolete in a digital world. The leadership style depends on the industry, the company and the person himself, but it should be compatible with the general understanding of the role of a digital leader. Situational leadership has therefore proved particularly successful, in which (as the name suggests) different situations and challenges are dealt with flexibly. Digital leaders set rules and processes, but should leave the necessary space for creativity, individuality and innovation. In this way, the organisation remains agile and can proactively drive change processes.
What are the responsibilities of digital leadership?
The responsibilities of a digital leader can basically be divided into three fields: the employees, the company itself and the technologies used. All these areas of responsibility should be taken into account when developing goals and taking measures.
Fundamental to digitalisation is the targeted use of technology for internal and external process optimisation. Digital leaders should therefore be able to understand and evaluate new technologies in order to decide whether costs and benefits are in a profitable relationship. It is important to be customer-centric when developing new solutions and to network with stakeholders on a technological and personal level. Ideally, digital leaders constantly question existing structures and strategies and develop them further if necessary.
An important area of responsibility also lies in the proper management of employees. Digitalisation is changing the way we work. A simple example here is the flexible choice of working hours or even locations. This presents managers with new challenges. The promotion of team-internal and cross-team exchange is essential - no one should work in isolation. This requires the ability for virtual leadership and agile work structures. It is also important to bridge the differences between the technical skills of individual employees. All employees must be equally empowered and motivated to use digital solutions in their daily work.
This often requires a change in corporate culture that facilitates digital transformation. The introduction of agile working methods, participatory exchange and the dismantling of hierarchical structures create important basic prerequisites. An open and constructive culture of error should also be established - because it can be the key to further development and innovation.
Transformation must always be thought of holistically and can only really succeed if it is also implemented accordingly. It is therefore essential for digital leaders to keep an overview of where their own organisation is and to have a vision of where it should develop.
What should a digital leader bring to the table?
The skills required for digital leadership are as diverse as the tasks that need to be fulfilled. Soft skills are often more crucial than other qualifications. These skills include:
- Flexibility towards new situations
- The ability for effective team building
- A basic understanding of diversity in terms of nationality, culture, gender
- Patience (because change takes time)
- Empathy for the insecurities of the employees
- Integrity and role model character
- No hierarchical thinking: clearly defined goals, open exchange and trust
- Media competence: mastery of technical communication media, profound knowledge of digital technologies, curiosity and willingness to innovate.
And how does one become a digital leader?
Basically, every manager can become a digital leader. The right mindset is crucial for successful digital leadership. That means: if he or she is willing to break away from hierarchical thinking and traditional structures, the basic prerequisite is already fulfilled.
Furthermore, digital leaders should have social, technological and visionary skills. These can be learned (for the most part). This can take place through coaching, further education or even self-study.