Evolving, being daring and tackling something new—this is what being a digital leader is all about. The world is changing and employees’ needs and desires aren’t the same today as they were a few years ago, which is why the transition to working from home and the proliferation of hybrid worlds of work means a complete rethink of leadership styles. What makes a successful leader and what exactly has changed? We’ve put together the most crucial aspects of digital leadership.
In the past, managers prescribed what had to be done—assigning tasks, delegating, managing and controlling. Hierarchies were important and in some cases, leaders would make decisions without first consulting their team. These days, however, it doesn’t go down very well with employees if the manager is simply telling everyone what to do. Hierarchies have been broken down and the team want to have a say in decisions and also take on responsibility. Communication is increasingly playing role, not only between managers and their team, but also within the team and beyond. Being able to communicate within and across departmental boundaries is crucial in agile organisations as it allows teams to share their knowledge. Specifically, that means traditional roles are blurring or disappearing entirely. In other words, in this age of digital transformation, companies need to be agile to remain innovative and in order for this to happen, they need flexible leaders who understand their employees and their needs. This all hinges on the interplay of individuals’ strengths, but above all, on the resulting synergies in the team.
Leaders used to be the decision makers, but today they have to play a range of roles, so it’s essential that supervisors motivate their team, act as a counterbalance and also liaise between various teams. A leader also has to advocate for their team and the decisions they have made. You could say they are a kind of profiler, meaning they have a good sense of personalities and know, for example, which employee would benefit from more freedom and which needs a little bit more support. Conflict management skills and excellent communication capabilities are also needed in order to lead teams through increasingly complex structures and encourage individual employees. 1.
These days, flat or broken down hierarchies ensure that it’s not just the manager making decisions, but the team as a whole. Collaboration on a equal footing forms the foundation for this. As employees are working increasingly from home or leveraging hybrid models of work, it is absolutely essential that they can organise themselves. What’s more, staff want to take on more responsibility and work independently, and so the leader is there as a coach and to enable the freedom to work.
Mutual decision making is just one part of the story as regular feedback—in both directions—also plays a role. Leaders have to search out communication with their team and individual employees, while staff members also have to feel like thy are able to express their opinions and make suggestions for improvement, and this requires a high degree of flexibility, compromise and an ability to reflect.
Digital leaders also need to make sure they show both recognition and appreciation and find new ways of doing so, especially in the case that entire teams or individuals are working from home. Employee motivation goes up when they are working in an environment that recognises their efforts and this impacts the mood in the entire team and ultimately boosts performance. It could also lower employee turnover. A real win-win.
Despite the ever-more complex world of work, leaders have to maintain an overview, but the challenge is lending an open ear to all employees and making sure that individuals don’t founder. Leaders also have to make sure that there is still a team spirit despite everyone working in different locations, which is why regular communication is indispensable. Ways have to be found therefore, to ensure employees feel close and ensure continuous contact. This can take the form of regular team meetings or in-person conversations.
Modern tools can be used to maintain productivity levels. In an agile world of work, it’s a leader’s responsibility to set a good example as well as communicate goals logical goals and a mission that as many employees can identify with as possible. An Objectives and Key Results (OKR) method is an excellent way of ensuring transparency as goals and expected results can be recorded and sub-goals determined. As mentioned, the advantage is that OKR methods enable transparency and tools such as Microsoft Viva Goals are based on this system.
The topic of digital leadership is just the start of the journey towards digital transformation. Businesses and organisations need a digitalisation plan before they can train their digital leaders, but it’s best to take a gradual approach. Corporate values and re-evaluating the corporate culture play a role in this, it is a very time-consuming process, but one that is definitely worth it. After all, a transformation can only be successful when every employee is on board and that takes time.
Having a good plan in place from the off, which considers the status quo and then precisely defines the goals to be achieved, is decisive. It can be of great help to search out support from an external party to benefit from their experience in analysing, operations and, later on, implementation.
Bechtle and its experienced experts can help with all of these points and also in the sustainable anchoring in your business. It’s important to act quickly so as not to miss out in our rapidly changing world of work, leverage competitive advantages and keep the best employees for your business.