Apr 18, 2017

5 Traits of a Successful Digital Leader

by Digital Marketing Institute

Great digital leaders don’t just possess a wealth of digital knowledge, they also demonstrate solid interpersonal skills that will help others to share in their vision.

By the end of 2017, two-thirds of CEOs of Global 2000 companies will have digital transformation at the centre of their corporate strategy and they’ll need strong digital leaders to champion this change.

So, if you’re an aspiring digital thought leader, check out these five essential traits that will differentiate you from the competition and establish you as an agent of change.


When we were a small company, we needed to stand on the shoulders of giants to grow up. If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. - Pony Ma, Founder of Tencent

When you're talking about digital, vision isn't a word you should take lightly. In fact, in the early stages of digital transformation, vision is everything.

87% of companies think that digital transformation is a competitive opportunity and to compete, you need to have a firm grasp on the technologies and strategies underpinning your organization’s goals from both a long-term and short-term perspective.

Ideally, a strong digital leader will come from outside your industry and bring a fresh mindset to the table; one that allows them to shake things up and create truly innovative ideas that change the digital landscape.

From content marketing and social selling right through to branding and big data, a disruptive digital leader will be able to create a holistic digital strategy to ensure that the business evolves with future changes and digital innovations.


Uber is efficiency with elegance on top. That's why I buy an iPhone instead of an average cell phone, why I go to a nice restaurant and pay a little bit more. It's for the experience. - Travis Kalanick, Founder of Uber

Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, looked at his own needs as a consumer and decided that the world was screaming out for a slick, convenient and cost effective taxi solution.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but in the wonderful world of digital, the fearlessly curious are usually the most successful.

By challenging old systems and examining an issue from the customer’s point of view, you’ll be able to fully empathize with their needs and produce innovative solutions for consumer pain points. Everything from customer service and delivery times to convenience and UX issues should be thoroughly examined.

Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, looked at his own needs as a consumer and decided that the world was screaming out for a slick, convenient and cost effective taxi solution that would allow people to ride in style for less.

This is what he said in a recent interview...

"We just wanted to push a button and get a ride," he said. "And we wanted to get a classy ride. We wanted to be baller in San Francisco. That’s all it was about."

Uber now has 47 million monthly riders worldwide.


Anyone should be able to tell me anything, that's the culture we strive for. - Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

In this day and age, digital collaboration is intrinsic to the success of most departments in an organisation and a successful digital leader will understand how to make it happen. For example, IT departments must work closely with digital marketing teams to roll out successful promotional campaigns, improve user interfaces and gather important data. Each department can take this collaboration one step further - extracting valuable insights from data to provide excellent consumer experiences that generate leads and increase ROI in new and exciting ways.

According to a recent study, Fortune 500 companies lose around $31.5 billion per year by failing to share knowledge. An influential digital leader will implement internal communication processes that encourage cross-departmental sharing of information, insights, and ideas to foster an open and collaborative environment.

Dex Media's intranet is an excellent example of this. In a recent Q&A, Suzanne Keen, Dex Media's VP of Corporate Communications said:

"Now, employees across the business have a voice and a place where they can share their ideas and opinions. They can post, comment and ask questions on The Buzz (Dex Media’s intranet) without asking anyone’s permission, which sets the agenda for greater openness and trust between managers and their teams. People are setting up team and project sites, commenting on posts and asking questions, and we are developing a more contemporary, entrepreneurial, forward-looking business culture as a result.”


Successful experimentation requires in-depth analysis of customer data, the ability to make swift strategic improvements in-line with these findings and an understanding that despite your best efforts, failure is still an option.

Making mistakes is an unavoidable part of a rewarding learning curve, and a successful digital leader will understand that. By giving people the confidence to understand that failure is a natural part of innovation, a digital leader can inspire employees to make bold, creative decisions that would otherwise be lost in the maelstrom of office life.

75% of individuals think they are not living up to their creative potential. That's a lot of people. A true digital leader will help people to be creative within their roles while working towards one common company goal.

A host of studies have shown that flexible schedules can lead to higher rates of overall productivity and higher job satisfaction - flexibility inspires creativity.

Despite recalling its 20% initiative years ago, Google is a company that fosters creativity and sees it as a key part of digital success. By learning from its mistakes, Google has refined its internal practices, understanding that rather than killing creativity, managers help to maintain creative energies. Why? Because without managers, employees were left overwhelmed with distracting tasks which actually served to hurt their creativity. As a result, the company now helps to manage and nurture its managers so they can serve as strong leaders in the workplace.

In short, a successful digital leader will experiment, innovate and inspire.

Networking proficiency

The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity. - Keith Ferrazzi, Author of Never Eat Alone

A true digital leader will understand the value of networking.

Not only will they spend an ample amount of time forging relationships, creating partnerships, and gathering vital information, they'll also find fresh places to connect with people.

Rather than attending the same local digital conference, you might find a successful digital leader on lesser known online forums, at startup pitches, internet summits and business fairs. Developing a company’s commercial eco-system, building business bonds, and sharing valuable information are all incredibly important in today's digital landscape, and a great digital leader will have their finger on the pulse at all times.

85% say they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships during in-person business meetings and conferences.

In a nutshell, being a successful digital leader means being innovative, creative, collaborative, experimental, curious, and able to network. A digital leader is forward thinking, industry leading, and most importantly, has the ability to remain relevant in a landscape that is constantly changing. Being a digital leader means being equipped with a special set of qualities, all of which start with a sound knowledge of digital marketing practices and emerging technologies.

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