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What does digital leadership mean and what makes a digital leader?

Digitalization has brought about many changes in the world of work and in almost all areas of business. There is constant change, which has been further catalyzed by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Our blog post today therefore deals with the crucial role of the management level in the digitalization process - in short, "digital leadership".

What does digital leadership mean and what makes a digital leader?

Digital leadership describes a new management style: a digital leader is a management figure who initiates restructuring in the company and accompanies the transition from analog to digital. He or she leads in an agile manner, promotes the participation of employees in the company and takes measures and decisions in terms of a general digital transformation. Digital leadership is therefore a very important tool for the success of a company in today's world.

Crisp Research AG defines digital leadership in its research project "Digital Leader. Leadership in the digital age", Crisp Research AG defines a digital leader as follows:

"As a digital leader, the digital leader is representative of the digitalization of their own company. They are characterized by in-depth knowledge and a pronounced 'digital-first mindset'. The digital leader leads their team with a high degree of participation, encourages new innovations and also breaks new ground to advance the digital transformation."

The perfect digital leader is not active in a fixed sector within the company, but can be found everywhere in the company - in many companies, the role of the digital leader is institutionalized as a CDO (Chief Digital Officer).

The digital leader has a high level of awareness of the importance of digitalization within their own company and sees the high need for transformation within various areas of the company.

The characteristics and skills of a digital leader naturally include openness to new methods and technologies and flexibility in the face of unfamiliar situations. They should also have good organizational and coordination skills as well as team-building qualities. Ideally, a digital leader should have extensive specialist knowledge of new media and digital technologies, which must be communicated to employees. They don't need to know everything, but they do need to bring the right people into the team who have the necessary know-how on the fundamental topics. In order to actively drive digital change, the digital leader needs good decision-making skills as well as patience, time, empathy and a budget to establish and promote the necessary measures for digitalization.

A digital leader is characterized by innovative and disruptive thinking, which many decision-makers still lack today and can only develop over time.

How do you best implement digital leadership?

Digital leadership is not a tool that can simply be purchased and used. It is a leadership concept that is implemented gradually and cannot be introduced from one day to the next. Digital leadership must emerge, grow and develop in a natural way so that it does not represent a sudden change for management and employees, but is accepted as a matter of course. This is why we are not talking about a digital revolution, but rather a digital evolution.

Various measures must be taken one after the other to create a digital leadership atmosphere. Managers must be trained and employees must be familiarized with the newly implemented methods. The acquisition of new technologies and the digitalization of all data must be implemented. A new corporate concept with a focus on digitalization must be created in depth. These measures require time and money. It is advisable to introduce training and further education in order to continue modernizing the company.

Digital leadership is supported by three pillars: Employees, Company and Technology (MUT). Every decision and measure taken must weigh up these three instances and be derived from them. The employee must be able to implement the measure well, it must offer the company an advantage and be supported by technology that is as efficient and secure as possible.

Not sure where your company currently stands in the digitalization process? Watch our webinar recording from 24.02.2022 to find out which criteria can be used to determine your company's level of digitalization.

What will the digital leadership of the future look like?

A study by Crisp Research AG, which was conducted in 2015 and surveyed 503 people in management positions, showed that 73% of respondents agreed with the thesis that digitalization is the basis for solving key ecological and economic challenges. 77.6% of those surveyed agree with the thesis that digitalization ensures greater innovative strength and productivity in the company and breaks down "silo thinking". One in four companies already offers training and further education in this area. New employees are taught new technological knowledge as efficiently as possible through so-called "digitalization boot camps".

In the Crisp Research AG study, 59.7% of respondents stated that they had strong or very strong digital skills. 39.8% of those surveyed would describe themselves as "digital leaders". However, this is in stark contrast to the results of the study, which found that only 26% of decision-makers have above-average skills in this area. The research shows:

"Decision-makers suffer from a dramatic overestimation of their own abilities in the context of digital transformation".

The term "digital leadership" is new and so is the management concept behind it. Many companies have already taken the first steps towards digital transformation. However, there is still a long way to go before the concept of digital leadership is implemented in all companies. Ultimately, only some of the leaders will be able to be a digital leader. Many who already describe themselves as such will quickly realize that this role is much more complex and complicated than it initially seemed. This is why companies need to create and apply a screening model that enables them to recognize, develop or find such digital leaders externally.

Slowly but surely, the leadership concept of digital leadership will become established in companies. It is imperative that companies prepare themselves, take the plunge and participate in the change so as not to be left behind.

A good measure that digital leaders can take to introduce digitalization in companies is to introduce workforce scheduling software such as shyftplan.

With our software solution for workforce scheduling, shyftplan, we promote the self-determination of employees by involving them in many planning processes from the outset. This allows us to exploit previously unimagined potential: employee intelligence. The other core functions of our software include duty scheduling, time recording, absence planning and time management.

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