Apr 3, 2018

The Most In-Demand Skills in Digital Leadership

by Digital Marketing Institute

Leadership is a driving factor in the success of a business particularly in this age of digital.

The pace of change means that today’s leaders need to be reactive and proactive in the face of challenges. A successful digital leader also must bear in mind that while technology is important, the people part of transformation is just as crucial.

It’s obvious that leadership today is a balancing act and requires a unique set of skills to drive success that reaps rewards for the leader, organization, and workforce. According to Deloitte, 42% of major companies now believe that it is very important to invest in developing leaders. Success in the digital age depends upon it.

What’s not simple, however, is making that change. With the need to improve now so obvious, it prompts the question: What skills are required of today's digital leaders?

1. Communication

In the past, it may have been acceptable for leaders to remain distant and detached from their workforce. However, in the digital age, that will no longer drive success. By using the technology at hand, digital leaders can build a strong network of communication from the top of an organization right to the bottom.

To do this the leadership must have a communications strategy and understand who they are addressing. While staying on-point and being timely with their delivery, leaders must also give enough information to make people care about and invest in their message.

For example, Ford's CIO, Marcy Klevorn leveraged the power of video to great effect to connect with her employees. Using her phone, she regularly posts short videos entitled "if you have a minute". These videos share updates on new products, company achievements and other events. Staying visible and vocal in this way, helps her to foster strong relationships, empower employees and bring the company's vision to life.

Communication is key in driving leadership. It helps management connect with employees, keep the workforce abreast of changes so they can move with them and empowers staff to adapt and learn to stay current and focused.

2. Vision

Speaking of vision, this is a trait that makes digital leaders stand out from the rest. According to marketing guru and best-selling author, Simon Sinek, customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.

The ability to convince people to follow you down the yellow brick road isn’t easy, but if you have the vision and can creatively weave a vivid picture that makes people believe what you believe, then the chance of success is significantly greater.

Steve Jobs was arguably one of the greatest digital visionaries of our time, refusing to let his own limited technological skills stand in the way of bringing his ambitions to life, ultimately revolutionizing the world of animated movies and digital music.

As a leader trying to create something that doesn’t already exist, the ability to inspire an organization to believe your vision is crucial for true digital transformation to take place.

3. Digital Literacy

Research from Harvard Business Review and MIT found that in a study with 1,000 CEOs, 90% believe their businesses are being disrupted or reinvented by digital business models. When asked about their capabilities, 70% believe they do not possess the right skills, leader, or operating structure to adapt.

The problem many face is that they are from an older generation and are having to learn basic technology and digital marketing methods later in life, which is always trickier than growing up immersed in it. These so-called digital immigrants can quickly fall behind their younger peers if they do not make proactive strides to getting up-to-speed.

As more people get to grips with technology and the tools of the internet, the best and brightest digital leaders will rise up upon the knowledge they acquire. Along the way, they will develop advanced cognitive, creative and social skills. But even when they become an expert, there will always be more to learn cementing the need for continuous professional development at all levels of a workforce.

4. Strategy

Digital leaders must be able to unite the organization if they are going to undergo a successful transformation. They must nurture a digital culture that embraces the change. For that to happen, a clear, coherent strategy outlining their digital agenda is essential.

When digital transformation begins to effect change in an organization, disrupting the business model, processes and practices, the business is recognized as having ‘digital maturity’.

The most successfully digital leaders will not only have a clear vision for the future of the company but also be willing to commit the resources and implement the changes needed to make that vision happen. They will need to be progressively forward-thinking, with their views on digital strategy having a much longer scope than leaders and companies who aren’t as digitally mature.

5. Innovation

With the landscape changing so rapidly in the digital age, leadership must be willing to try new technologies and become more adaptable and flexible in their approach to creating a digital workplace.

For many leaders, particularly older ones, this can be quite a challenge as it involves turning their back on hard-wired practices and beliefs from the way they normally do business. However, being open to the possibilities of new technology presents a massive opportunity for growth.

The luxury brand, Burberry, was able to rise above their competition by embracing an innovative approach to social media, jumping on new channels such as Periscope and Instagram video ads before their rivals.

The Most In-Demand Skills in Digital Leadership

By putting digital innovation at the forefront of her strategy, the CEO Angela Ahrendts led Burberry to the top of the industry, with their 11% revenue growth dwarfing that of nearby rivals. Her achievements at Burberry soon earned Ahrendts a position at one of the world’s leaders of digital innovation, Apple.

The key to innovation for leaders is to keep abreast of developments in the digital sphere and ensure the workforce is embedded in a culture that values innovation and takes risks to trial new platforms and technologies.

6. Risk-Taking

Putting speed and innovation ahead of tried-and-tested business practices is something that a lot of businesses are cautious about, often considering it too risky. However, risk-taking is fast becoming a vital ingredient of digital leadership, according to Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

After acquiring Instagram, Zuckerberg rolled out Instagram stories, risking the wrath of the world who accused him of copying Snapchat. However, the success of Instagram stories has vindicated his decision, with over 200 million users a day clearly happy he took the chance.

For a start-up, the risks can be even greater. When two college friends deliberately went into credit card debt to launch their email newsletter, it could have ended in disaster. Considering they had already been rejected by hundreds of start-up investors, it certainly was a risk with a bleak outlook. Today, their newsletter theSkimm has over 5 million loyal subscribers including Oprah.

Innovation is impossible without risk. If you can’t take risks, you may not be cut out to be a digital leader.

7. Adaptability

Sudden changes in the industry can disrupt the status quo, potentially derailing the success of your organization. A perfect example is the cloud computing revolution, which posed problems for even the biggest companies, such as Salesforce and Netflix who angered customers when their services went down.

In these situations, it is important that a leader can remain flexible and adaptable, ready to make the quickfire decisions that can keep the company on track with minimal negative impact.

A report by Right Management highlights the growing importance of adaptability in business, with 91% of HR decision-makers believing that people will be hired based on their ability to deal with change.

Forbes believes that adaptability may be the key skill for digital leaders, as it provides the foundation from which to effect change. A leader who is rigid and unwilling to be proactive with digital will eventually condemn their business to the dust as the world moves on.

8. Talent Spotting

The Most In-Demand Skills in Digital Leadership

As much as 60% of business managers understand the real importance of having digital skill sets in their business. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible to evaluate and guide their employees to develop digital expertise.

Global tax and assurance company EY recently announced their series of global talent training programs, with CEO, Mark Weinberger vowing to give his workforce of over 250,000 people “the insights they need to develop, grow their individual careers and prepare for the future of work”.

Digital leaders don’t have to do everything themselves, but they must be able to spot the areas of their organization that need improving. Moreover, they need to be able to hire and develop the best talent to not only fill roles but also drive the business forward to greater success.

Making a digital transformation is no easy feat. To lead the workplace forward, management must have a vision that inspires unity in the workplace. They must be able to foster a digital culture that is willing to become more adaptable to change, ready to embrace new technology and innovation.

People are just as crucial as technology. Strong communication must flow within the organization and the human element must not be forgotten, as it is key to connecting with customers.

Digital leaders must create harmony between the technology and people, creating a balance in order to drive their business to a successful future.

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