6 Characteristics of Successful Digital Leaders


According to Harvard Business Review, fewer than 25% of CEOs and about 12.5% of CFOs could be regarded as digitally proficient. And the percentage among those leading the technology function is just 47% of CTOs and 45% of CIOs. Perhaps companies everywhere need to rethink the digital acumen of their top management teams.

Company boards aren’t that different either. An MIT study of 3,000 companies with over $1 billion in annual revenues showed that 76% of boards weren’t digitally savvy—be it in terms of directors’ backgrounds, the number of members with digital experience, or the manner in which boards interacted with executives on technology-related issues.

Clearly, the Digital Revolution has altered the leadership skills and behaviors needed to succeed in a post-digital landscape. According to Forbes, 95% of surveyed organizations agree that “a different, new type of leadership is required to effectively address changes in organizational structures and operating models due to digitalization.” And yet only 37% believe they have a strong digital leader in place. The absence of effective, digitally-savvy leadership can lead to failing digital initiatives and lack of cohesive corporate strategy, and even negatively impact an organization’s ability to attract and retain top talent.

What is digital leadership?

Digital leadership is the discipline of steering an organization toward digital transformation so that it can remain competitive and adaptive in the quickly changing digital and social media ecosystem. The major role of a digital leader is to lead the organization in adapting to digital transformation, and connecting technology to the marketplace as well as the company business and culture.

6 skills of a digital leader

Innovative digital leaders are often challenging to identify within a company, and they’re equally difficult to cultivate. The good news: Innovation is a competency and, like other competencies, it can be developed. Here are six key characteristics of successful leaders.

  1. Digital leaders are experts in leadership, innovation, and collaboration. They anticipate and respond to the nature and speed of change, act decisively without always having clear direction and certainty, and keep effectiveness high—despite constant surprises and the lack of predictability.

  2. Digital leaders have strong social skills, enable the organization to follow a vision, create conditions for experimentation, empower people to think differently, and get employees to collaborate across boundaries.

  3. Digital leaders are innovation evangelists, understand the multi-layered fields of action in digital transformation, and are skilled in dealing with technical, structural, psychological, cultural, and operational components.

  4. Digital leaders comprehend the potential of digital technologies to increase efficiency and know to focus their transformation efforts on customer intimacy and experience—rather than technology alone.

  5. Digital leaders are excellent communicators and master dialogic communication skills (giving feedback or listening skills) even better than monologic communication skills (such as storytelling or rhetoric).

  6. Digital leaders create a culture of change and institutionalize that change—clearly articulating connections between new behaviors and the success of the organization until old habits are replaced.

It’s not enough to develop just one or two of these traits. The real innovators will learn to excel at all six.

Benefits of effective digital leadership

From happier employees to higher profit margins, companies that cultivate digital leaders experience positive results. For example, effective digital leadership is directly tied to financial success.

  • Companies that have higher digital maturity reported 45% revenue growth verses 15% for lower digital 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

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.

But that’s not all

Building these six competencies into your digital leaders will benefit more than just your current teams. A recent survey also found that 72% of potential new hires are influenced to join a company based on its digital leadership, and 80% are attracted to a company based on its use of the latest digital tools. So, it makes good sense to partner

10Pearls is a world-class digital transformation partner, building custom solutions to automate paper-based processes. We support the entire development lifecycle including creation/revision, planning, and execution. Our digital leaders harness the power of technology to make your business faster, more efficient, and more accurate – while accelerating your digital leaders.