This article was first published on Read Write.
The importance of digital transformation continues to be one of the most important priorities in organizations, especially so after the pandemic. The benefits of implementing digital leadership styles have become apparent.
Only the organizations fully embraced and committed to digital transformation could survive the disruption caused by the pandemic. Others had to struggle and are working on getting their organizations to digital transformation as quickly as possible.
How are transformation initiatives implemented in organizations? How is a digital-first focus introduced and sustained? How are digital practices integrated with an organization’s various departments and projects?
The answer is quite simple — a digital leader ensures that digitization continues setting up businesses for success and maintaining a competitive advantage. Effective digital leadership styles often differentiate a successful digital (and cultural) transformation from an unsuccessful one.
An Aon index study found that 64% of organizations have placed digital leaders in critical roles to ensure a successful digital transformation. But what exactly is leadership, and what does it entail? Let’s dive in.
A brand new management style, digital leadership, refers to driving dexterity, agility, and responsiveness in an organization for all things digital.
Digital leadership is about taking the reigns for successfully driving all large and small-scale digital transformation in an organization, which in today’s world can easily be compared to taking the onus of driving the organization towards sustained success.
A digital leader need not necessarily be tied to a department, a degree, a role, or a hierarchy. More than anything, these are the three must-haves in any agile leader:
Carrying out organization-wide digital transformation and leading it to a path of sustained agility is not for everyone. Digital leaders are required to dream big, communicate their vision and then display the courage to stick to the vision despite facing resistance and obstacles along the way.
Digital transformations require taking employees out of their comfort zones and preparing them to face and adapt to disruptions with as much agility as possible. Therefore, the right digital champion needs to lead through example and display endless courage to make this happen.
Digital leaders need to have the right mix of soft and technical skills, which falls in the latter category. Digital leaders, more than an educational degree or certification, need to have a track record of showcasing a digital-first approach and having the experience of leading the charge.
This is less to do with their hierarchy and their mindset and priorities. Mastery of design thinking, agility, and innovation set digital leaders apart.
A digital leader can command the organization to follow its direction and inspire others. Therefore, they need high credibility and charisma that commands attention and respect.
They would also need to maintain cordial relationships with everyone around them, requiring them to have a strong character and a certain level of likeability.
These are sure the must-haves in any digital leader, but what are the various leadership styles available to a digital leader? Are there particular contexts or phases where these styles work better? Let’s find out.
A style that seems to contradict the concept of agility itself, this leadership style limits autonomy and demands adherence to instructions with little to no leeway. People are expected to do what is asked of them without any interpretation of their own. Such a digital leadership style should be saved only for crises and emergencies.
In a digital context, such a situation can be regarding data safety and security, mandatory compliance with digital protocols, or the quick adoption of some technology due to a crisis. Such a style is incompatible with agile and innovative business culture. It should only be reserved for emergencies.
In stark contrast to commanding leadership, autonomy, collaboration, and innovation are tolerated and encouraged here. Instead of a top-down approach, team inputs and a bottom-up approach drive this culture.
This style works best for finding solutions to identified problems, ensuring buy-in from multiple stakeholders, and making decisions. A democratic digital leader has an open mind, facilitates healthy discussion, and converges ideas to reach an effective solution.
This type of leadership works in high-performance-driven environments, where results are everything. Environments like these are often found in startups that promote the “hustle” culture, where employees are only retained if they perform impressively on their targets.
This type of digital leadership style, which might work when delivering a crucial project or preparing an organization for a funding round, is not sustainable in the long run. The digital leader and those under his purview would eventually face burnout which would be detrimental to the digital transformation process.
Also read: 7 Traits of Successful Digital Leaders
Not everyone in an organization has an equal level of comfort with technology. Some might even face insecurities because of a change in how they work or the reduced importance of their role due to digital disruptions.
It is a digital leader’s responsibility to communicate to people how digital adoption helps not only the organizations but also helps them in enhancing their skill set and makes them ready for the modern workplace. In such a scenario, coaching leadership is of utmost importance.
Such a digital leader would convey how people can align their personal development with the organization’s digital transformation and empower and train them to go through with the change.
As mentioned earlier, digital leaders must have the courage to dream big and envision a future that those comfortable with the status quo can’t. This requires a true visionary who can stick to their vision despite facing challenges and criticism from skeptics. This type of leadership ensures that everyone can see the vision and make themselves a part of the effort to fulfill it.
As we can see, digital transformation is as much about the people leading it as it is about the technology itself. Since it is an ongoing activity, strong digital leaders are required by organizations to keep people motivated and to keep employees on their toes to face any digital disruption that comes their way.
Digital leaders must be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and understand the leadership style they need to implement, given the situation.
A strong mark for any effective digital leader is to keep an eye out for technology and platforms that enable and support the process of digital transformation.
Efforts must be made to ensure that technology trends are followed and adopted in the organization.
For the adoption, digital leaders shall create a protective net of training, learning, and experimentation for employees and their adoption of new technology.
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