7 Skills for the Modern Digital Leader

7 Skills for the Modern Digital Leader

leading in a digital world
leading in a digital world

What is Digital Leadership?

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “digital leadership?” You may think of companies with a strong online presence or thought leaders who take to posts and videos to share their ideas. Perhaps you find yourself reflecting on how quickly technology has transformed the way we conduct our personal and professional lives. 

Digital leadership refers to all of these components and more. While there are several dimensions of digital leadership that are important to explore, digital leadership can be summarized as a strategic mindset and approach to business that leverages technology in order to achieve organizational goals. 

In everything from staff development to ensuring client satisfaction, digital leaders keep our highly remote, digital world in mind. They also understand and respond to cultural shifts, such as those that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, recognizing that the public at large is facing high levels of mistrust that largely stem from digital misinformation, skepticism toward government officials, and doubt of leaders in general. 

With a solid grasp on company goals and aspirations, keen awareness of technological developments, and a strong sense of their organization’s capacity for transformation, digital leaders can direct individuals, departments, corporations, and entire business sectors toward greater outcomes. 

digital leader skills

7 Skills for the Modern Digital Leader

When it comes to leading in an ever-changing technological landscape, there are seven digital leadership skills that will empower digital leaders in their mission. For individuals who desire to guide their teams and companies toward sustainability and success, these skills are essential. 

1. Vision Casting

One of the greatest tools for combating digital misinformation, building trust with employees and potential customers, and gaining the momentum necessary for exponential growth is the ability to cast a compelling vision. Digital leaders know that a key part of their role is considering the future of their industry, visualizing their company’s role in that future, and articulating that vision in a way that encourages others to join in making it a reality. 

In a world where most people believe that journalists (67%), government leaders (66%), and business executives (63%) are "purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations,” the value of a digital leader who casts a clear, truthful vision that they then follow through on cannot be overstated. 

Dr. Pauline Hoffmann, Associate Professor for St. Bonaventure University’s Master’s in Leadership program, started the Data Doyenne podcast to “address our collective move away from science and reason and to help people understand how to find accurate information. How to trust what's out there and weed through the rhetoric of disinformation.” 

Like Hoffmann, digital leaders have an opportunity to help people regain their ability to trust and determine who is trustworthy. 

2. Strategic Planning

Digital leaders cannot simply cast a vision — they have to determine the detailed steps it will take to make that vision a reality. And their plans cannot always simply be about profits and production, they also have to consider company culture and what it looks like to cultivate trust and buy-in from employees and key stakeholders who may be reluctant to embrace change. 

McKinsey outlines “four fights you have to win” during the strategic planning process as a digital leader: ignorance, fear, guesswork, and diffusion. These are natural conflicts that occur in the face of transformation, but the digital leader who approaches transformation with strategic planning, confidence, and the willingness to take reasonable risks can ultimately win the day and guide their company further into the digital age. 

3. Communication

Vision casting and strategic planning are digital leadership skills that in order to be successful, rely on skillful communication. Digital leaders are often prompting their organizations to make changes that employees and key stakeholders find nerve-wracking. No matter how well concerns are accounted for and addressed within a digital leader’s vision or strategic plan, they will persist in slowing the pace of change if they are not responded to on a broader scale with good communication.

For example, an MIT survey found that the most crucial factor for the success of the transition to remote work teams was two-way, frequent and transparent communication from leadership. One of the greatest ways that digital leaders can promote positive outcomes for their companies is not solely through advocating for technological transformation, but also by effectively communicating through each step of the process. 

4. Organizational Intelligence

Digital leaders recognize that technology and digitization have a profound impact on every dimension of an organization and lead accordingly. To lead effective change, digital leaders need to have a solid understanding of the legal, political, and ethical issues that influence their organization and its employees. 

Leaders with strong digital leadership skills will use their organizational intelligence to ensure that their plans have a positive impact across all dimensions of the organization. They may work with managers or department heads to identify key barriers to growth, build models of planned organizational change, and develop strategies for assessing performance. By approaching digital leadership in this way, leaders can build greater trust with all departments and increase the likelihood that their company can make and sustain positive, technology-driven changes.

5. Digital Literacy

While this skill may seem a bit obvious, it is important to note that simply wanting to make a company more technologically savvy is not enough for real, lasting organizational transformation. Digital leaders must match their enthusiasm with knowledge, expertise, and up-to-date awareness of the ever-shifting technological landscape. Depending on their organization’s industry, digital leaders may need to learn how to use various online platforms, software programs, or even programming languages. 

Having highly developed digital literacy skills is also invaluable for organizational leaders as it helps them to develop good digital hygiene habits in their fellow leaders and employees. As leaders demonstrate competence and confidence in digital literacy, they can serve as role models. Harnessing digital literacy helps leaders demonstrate to others that there is a way to leverage technology that is safer and less confusing than they previously thought.

6. Innovation

The role of the digital leader is inherently forward-thinking and creative, so innovation skills are critical to the role. As digital leaders consider what it may look like to, for example, implement a new algorithm that predicts next-quarter earnings, they will need to draw upon several elements of innovation as part of their process. Those elements may include research into predictive analytics, gathering information about how the company has made sales predictions in the past, and experimenting with a few different algorithms to determine the best fit for their organization. 

Innovation also involves skills like ideation, iteration, and assessment. Digital leaders may find that techniques like brainstorming or mind mapping, visualization tools, or collaboration strategies help them to earn organizational trust, come up with new possibilities, and accurately determine which concepts are a good fit and which are not. 

7. Global Perspective

One of the most transformative elements of the digital age is the way it connects individuals and corporations to people all over the world. Increased emphasis on technology has come with, and prompted, an increased emphasis on globalization. Digital leaders who lead their organizations and those within them to the greatest possible successes will guide, advise, and institute changes with the broader world in mind. 

Through understanding concepts like how company decisions can impact the community and world at large, the nuances of international and multicultural organizations, and the implications of global policies and economics, digital leaders can make more informed decisions and recommendations. 

benefits of digital leadership

3 Benefits of Excellent Digital Leadership

Professionals who take care to cultivate their digital leadership skills are a critical part of creating results for their organizations, their customers, and their own careers. From higher profit margins to happier employees, well-developed digital leaders can make a positive difference in many ways. 

1. Digital Leadership Improves Employee Productivity

As organizations develop strategic uses of technology, they tend to see a rise in employee performance. For example, one study found that workers employed by companies that leverage automation technologies are 31% more productive than those that do not. Another found that “radical flexibility” made possible by remote work led to companies having more high-performing employees than companies that did not offer a flexible work environment.

It’s also important to note that employees largely desire automation and processes that increase their productivity. Smartsheet’s Automation in the Workplace report found that:

  • 60% of workers estimate they would save six or more hours per week for automation, which they could then spend on higher-value work
  • 70% of workers say the biggest opportunity of automation lies in reducing time wasted on repetitive work
  • 97% of workers believe that automation can benefit their organization, citing positive outcomes including increased productivity, reduced human error, and making their companies more competitive 

2. Digital Leadership Increases Customer Satisfaction

Improving customer satisfaction is often one of the driving forces behind companies embracing more digital efforts. Studies show that digital transformation through the lens of customer experience can increase customer satisfaction by 20-30%, and that two-thirds of a company’s competitive edge is linked to its customer experience. 

As consumers have heavily shifted to shopping and online experiences over the past few years, digital leaders must think about how to leverage technology for the good of their customers and potential customers. Here are just some of the ways that consumers want to see companies and brands participating in the digital world:

  • 94% of consumers expect customer support to become more technologically advanced
  • 69% of U.S. consumers shop more with brands that offer consistent in-store and online experiences
  • 40% of consumers will disengage with a brand entirely if the brand posts toxic or fake user-generated content even once

3. Digital Leadership Raises Profit Margins

In addition to improving employee productivity and increasing customer satisfaction, digital leadership can lead organizations to increase their revenue. For example, as automation reduces the monotony of employee workloads, they are able to focus more time on income-generating tasks and innovations.

Embracing digital transformation is directly tied to financial success for companies. Here are a few of the ways that digital leadership raises profit margins:

  • Companies that have higher digital maturity reported 45% revenue growth compared to 15% for lower maturity companies 
  • Organizations with digitally savvy executive teams outperform comparable organizations that lack such leaders by more than 48% in growth and valuation
  • 84% of business executives say that new business opportunities have emerged as their companies make digital transformations

Become a Successful Digital Leader with SBU

Do you want to take an active role in stopping the spread of misinformation, rebuilding trust in leaders, and leveraging the digital space for good? Are you motivated by enacting change, motivating people, and helping organizations reach their goals? If so, the Online Master of Arts in Leadership at St. Bonaventure University can prepare you for the career you desire.  

This 100% online graduate program takes as little as 15 months and has no GRE or GMAT requirement. The coursework is designed to equip you for leadership roles or enhance your potential if you are a seasoned leader. You will learn to harness your leadership skills to empower employees and work towards positive social change.

The Master’s in Leadership graduate degree imparts a distinctive skill set necessary for success in digital leadership, including organizational intelligence, communication skills, and global perspective. 

Courses range from leadership and ethics and diversity to organizational structure and behavior to leading the digital world and leading change. Prior to graduation, students complete a strategic leadership project that incorporates the knowledge they have gained into real-world problem-solving for organizations. Each student prepares a Leadership Portfolio that highlights their growth as a leader and development throughout the program. 

Learn to lead effectively in the digital world with the Online Master of Arts in Leadership at St. Bonaventure University.