Digital Leadership – Leading in the Digital Age

digital leadership consultant

The story of the Tower of Babel ends with monolingual mankind having to disperse because they suddenly speak all the different languages. In times of globalization, this hurdle is almost completely overcome. In view of digital networking, many challenges in the global community can be mastered quickly and successfully.

As a result, large parts of humanity can participate in solutions, communicate their individual thoughts and advertise. In the best case scenario, this will result in joint ideas and approaches to solutions.

What is Digital Leadership?

Digital Leadership, Leadership 4.0 or New Leadership refers to an approach that is designed to meet the challenges of digitization.

Composed of the terms “digital” and “leadership”, it is about a leadership style that represents an important complement to the previous leadership styles in the context of digital transformation.

What justification does “Digital Leadership” have?

In response to the question “Which HR processes do you think are gaining in importance in the context of advancing digitalization”, “Leadership and Culture Management” was at the top of the list among the HR managers surveyed.

When asked about the biggest challenges of digital transformation for work organization, a majority of the more than 500 managers surveyed answered that managing the increasing complexity of collaboration was the biggest challenge.

Consequently, there is a logical need for a leadership style that can be described as an appropriate response to the ongoing changes in digital transformation.

Which drivers require Digital Leadership?

1. Coordination

The increasing globalization promotes multinational cooperation, in which employees of an organization in India, China or the USA have to be coordinated and supervised, coached and managed in project teams.

One of the most important values of Generation Y, which is assuming more and more responsibility in the job market, is the compatibility of family, leisure time and career. “Work-Life Balance” is thus increasingly forcing people to work from home.

Virtual rooms, in the form of “social media”, Skype, forums, chat rooms, have become part of everyday life for many people. Generation Z in particular no longer knows anything else, and Gen Y has also grown with it.

2. Functionality

Today we often find forms of organisation and leadership that combine disciplinary and technical lateral leadership within matrix organisation systems. In order to be able to lead professionally and functionally, attitude and skills are required to enable employees to successfully pursue the company’s goals.

3. Efficient collaboration

More and more technical system landscapes and IT collaboration platforms are finding their way into companies’ business processes. The goal is to standardize, optimize, and standardize, thereby increasing efficiency.

“Google Hangouts” as a video conferencing solution, “Dropbox” as a central data storage, “Basecamp” as a project management tool or “Slack” as a communication app offer the possibility to use these in parallel in order to promote cooperation and generate added value through increased efficiency. (The fact that these efficiency increases require further intelligent solutions will be discussed elsewhere).

4. Digital processes

Work processes are increasingly running digitally. No customer service agent picks up a piece of paper with the work orders at the company headquarters in the morning. Often a look at the smartphone at home is sufficient to know what needs to be done. Orders are digitally documented in lists, evaluated and can be viewed and commented on by the manager.

What does digital leadership require from a manager?

As already stated at the beginning, “digital leadership” means an extension of the previous leadership styles to include the facet of digital leadership. Three aspects are essential for this:

1. Reflect on one’s own attitude

Self-reflection is the beginning of everything. How open are you personally to an increasingly changing world of work? What do you welcome, but what do you reject? What is your own behavior as a user of digital instruments?

An honest, but ultimately open attitude towards digitization is the decisive factor when we talk about digital leadership. It is not a question of having to be a technology freak, but above all not of being a technology refuser. It’s about openness, curiosity, a change of perspective, trying out and verifying meaningfulness and efficiency. The inner attitude results in behavior that shows itself on the outside.

2. Be a role model

Talking is one thing, really doing it, something completely different. People let themselves be convinced of how executives actually act. They can therefore exemplify digital change and be open to new forms of work out of an inner conviction. And that doesn’t mean being able to operate your own iPhone, send an invitation via Outlook or use CRM programs in your company.

Everything that can be digitized will also be digitized. Executives have a special responsibility to create framework conditions that do justice to this claim.

3. Balanced mix of analog and digital trading

With all the advantages and necessities discussed, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. It will still be crucial to find a successful balance between direct, “analogue” exchange and digital interaction. After all, we are dealing with people.

Here, relationship, body language and the building of trust are decisive factors that make healthy and balanced leadership possible. It is not about “either-or”, but about “as well as”.

Digital leadership therefore requires balanced leadership. The combination of digital, innovative, adaptive and trusting, relationship-oriented behavior is the mixture that enables healthy, successful leadership behavior. Especially in times of constant change, of “permanent beta”, managers do well to remember this, to be prepared to give up familiar behavior patterns, to learn new things.


Digital leadership is a leadership style that represents a necessary and helpful leadership behavior within the digital transformation in the course of digitization. The advancing globalization, technical system landscapes and digital work processes require an open, curious, experimental attitude and balanced leadership from managers.

Published by Dave John

Decade of work experience in leadership consulting with strong focus on talent acquisition & assessment across different industries and geographies.

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