Digital Transformation: The 5 Must-Have Skills for Digital Leaders

Linh Tran, Tuesday 08 August 2017 | Reading time: unknown

“Going digital” is not an option, it’s inevitable. Most organizations and leaders have realized the importance of digital transformation. Digitizing an organization is easy, the hard part is to change hard-wired habits.

Digital transformation is on everyone’s radar right now and a majority of industries and companies are working towards digitizing their organization. But what does it take to digitally transform an organization successfully? Hint: It’s not just about implementing fancy new tools. A company is not automatically “digital” just because they have digital tools at their disposal. Digital transformation can only succeed if the people working in the organization are supportive of it, and getting people’s buy-in is only possible if the company’s leadership is taking the lead. This is why the answer to the question is: You will need a skillful digital leader who acts as the champion of this project. The digital leader must possess digital competence or literacy, but also various “softer” skills which enable them to transform the company successfully. Here are the 5 must-have skills for digital leaders: 

1. They must possess digital literacy

It is a given that a digital leader must have digital literacy. The ALA Digital Literacy Task Force defines digital literacy as


[…] the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.


So digital literacy encompasses much more than just technical knowledge. A digital leader must have the so-called “digital DNA”, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they must be a digital native, but they need to understand and appreciate the role technology plays in our daily and professional lives. Team collaboration, innovation, knowledge sharing and other characteristics of a digital workplace, should all become an intrinsic and natural part of the digital leader and the organization.

2. They must be visionaries

One of the things successful leaders have in common is that they have a vision, and that they are capable of inspiring others to believe in their vision. This means that digital leaders need to be great storytellers, as stories carry emotions which help digital leaders connect and motivate others.

Digital leaders aren’t just following technological trends, they are envisioning possibilities that don’t exist yet. They firmly believe that they can make the impossible possible. Sharing their visions and beliefs enables them to get the early adopters on their side, while giving the doubters enough time to acclimate themselves to the new technology.

3. They must be experimental

Digital leaders shouldn’t be afraid to take risks or to fail, innovation and progress are otherwise not possible. This means that they have to create an environment in which employees are allowed to fail and make mistakes without repercussions. This encourages them to experiment and to innovate and help the company grow.

Digital leaders don’t just experiment with technology, they are also willing to try new management and leadership techniques. They realize that part of a digital strategy is also to change management methods. The traditional hierarchical organizational structure with the strict division between boss and employee is often obstructive to digital transformation. Digital teams should have the freedom to make decisions, and to organize themselves and their work independently.

4. They must act as facilitators

Digital leaders act as mediators between “digital immigrants” (those who did not grow up with the internet and new media) and “digital natives” (those for whom using the internet and new technologies comes as natural as brushing their teeth). In order for a company to successfully turn into a digital organization, it’s essential that no one is being left behind.

The digital leader must find strategies to bridge the digital gap and to make sure that everyone in the organization benefits from the transformation. A possible method could be reverse mentoring: Younger employees (digital natives) mentor and coach digital immigrants on how to use the internet and new technologies more efficiently.

5. They must put people first

A digital leader’s task is to create a digital infrastructure and implement new processes and tools that align with the company’s goals and strategies. But a great digital leader understands that despite the importance of achieving business objectives, people always come first.

Digital transformation shouldn’t be a chore, it should become part of the organization and everyone should live it. Forcing people to use a new tool or to adopt new processes at a moment’s notice will only lead to them rejecting the new measures. It’s important to communicate the benefits of the new technology and processes to the team and offer sufficient training and coaching to familiarize people with it. 

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