Article: How digital leaders can enable employee development


How digital leaders can enable employee development

Organisations are progressing on the digital maturity graphs. And in order to reach complete maturity, they will need digital leaders at the helm. So what are the traits of digital leadership? We find out.
How digital leaders can enable employee development

When the organisation’s aspirations are clear to both the employees and the organisation itself, then they can serve as the compass in decision-making.


A digital leader empowers its people to think beyond the usual and ordinary.


Organisations are coming of age digitally, adapting to the fourth industrial revolution. A research paper by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte Insights calls such organisations digitally mature. The paper, “Coming of Age Digitally”, has found organisations making progress digitally. For the first time in its fourth research in as many years, have the researchers seen an uptick in the evaluation of companies’ digital maturity by survey respondents. 25% of the respondents believe their organisation is at an early stage, 44% believe they are at a developing stage, and 30% believe that their organisations are maturing.

An important thing that the research found, and is vital for organisations aspiring to reach the summit of the digital maturity peak is – digitally mature organisations help their people develop. This is one of the many important characteristics that set them apart. The research also found that it is the digital leadership which sets these companies apart. The relationship, therefore, is cyclical in nature. Develop the employees and they will return the favour by developing the organisation.

What is digital maturity?

The degree to which organisations have adapted themselves to a digital business environment.In this article, we focus on the requisite characteristics of digital leaders.

The traits of digital leaders

The research asked the respondents, “What would you like your leaders to have more of in order to navigate digital trends?” Here is what the survey results declared:





Direction. Providing vision and purpose



Innovation. Creating the conditions for people to experiment



Execution. Empowering people to think differently



Collaboration. Getting people to collaborate across boundaries



Inspirational leadership. Getting people to follow you



Business judgment. Making decisions in an uncertain context



Building talent. Supporting continuous self-development



Influence. Persuading and influencing stakeholders



Providing vision and purpose

Having the right direction and providing employees with vision and purpose came out as the most desired characteristic in digital leaders. 26% of respondents cited this trait as the top trait they want their leaders to have, highlighting that employees want the leadership to be the guiding light, provide them with a clear direction as they move towards a shared vision in times of uncertainty. When the organisation’s aspirations are clear to both the employees and the organisation itself, then they can serve as the compass in decision-making. Besides having a strong vision, it is important to have the stakeholders owning that vision, and then believing it to be a shared vision. This way, employees feel a part of the bigger picture and engaged in the journey towards becoming digitally mature.

Creating the conditions for people to experiment

Digitally mature organisations are agile and innovative. This involves experimenting fast and learning faster. When experiments go wrong, it is not a failure; rather a lesson. The ‘failure’ is fast, and turns into success even faster. The foundations of the digital era lie in concepts such as agile development and minimum viable products; a leadership is digital when it keeps those ethos alive. Hence, it is on leaders to create an environment where people are encouraged to experiment. There are organisations such as Adobe, which have a culture of rewarding failures too – it is not a reward for failing at your work, but for having the courage to try something new and innovative, and learning from it. Agile development has mostly been associated with technology development, but there is no reason that the same philosophy of sprint-based working cannot be applied to any form of work – be it strategy or marketing. And digital leaders are at the helm of spearheading this new way of working.

Empowering people to think differently

About 13% of the respondents selected “Execution” as the most important characteristic of a digital leader. A digital leader empowers its people to think beyond the usual and ordinary. Steve Jobs was a celebrated digital leader because he saw Xerox’s PARC technology, imagined what no one else ever had, used it to develop the first Graphical User Interface and ushered a new era of personal computing. Fittingly, Apple’s campaign was labelled “Think Different” – after all it was Jobs’ genius which pushed its people to also think differently. Digital leaders also enable their employees to be more empathetic to customer needs – what is it that the customer is looking for in the product? Experience, cost, service delivery, product capability? Empower your employees to find what the customer needs, and you can qualify as a digital leader.

Getting people to collaborate across boundaries

The workspace is increasingly becoming boundaryless. The types of stakeholders are increasing – different teams, gig workers, subject matter experts, and even robots. In order to move towards a common vision, it is important for digital leaders to ensure that all the stakeholders are collaborating. Take the example of Washington Post. The US media giant automated match reports in Rio Olympics in 2016. So the staff reporters on the ground were accompanied by these robots, and the freelance photographers, and columnists. And the editors from the headquarters would have been collaborating alongside with wire agencies, royalty picture providers, digital editors, etc. This task requires a digital leader, who gets all these stakeholders to collaborate, and collaborate well across boundaries.

After having witnessed erstwhile global leaders failing to digital organisations because of their inability to adapt, the fear has pushed companies to work on their digital maturity. The immediate step may as well be to develop digital leaders; and they will spearhead the charge.

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Topics: Leadership, #FutureHRLeadership

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