Leading people (and change) in the digital age

28 Sep 2016

  • Leadership

By: Nikola Hopkinson, Content Manager, ADMA

New technologies and a new breed of digital entrepreneurs have brought about disruption across all industries. Established companies have had to embark on full-scale digital transformations in order to survive in the brewing fourth industrial revolution.

But in the digital age, businesses need to look beyond processes and technical tools in order to succeed at ‘going digital’ – leaders need to embark on their own transformational journey and become digital leaders.

Building on their existing motivational and interpersonal skills, leaders must also develop a thorough understanding of technology, be able to identify future trends and effectively lead organisations through numerous changes.

So what makes an effective digital leader?


Digital leaders need to focus on constantly expanding their knowledge of emerging technologies and trends to prepare for the future. In a knowledge society, leaders must be open and eager learners; they need to keep up with and become part of the global revolution that is driving innovation and disruption. 

Change champion

Leaders need to be fearless in driving change, yet they must not lose site of the driving force behind the change: to be more efficient and deliver higher quality work.

In a McKinsey debate Nadir Mohamed, retired CEO of Rogers Communications, raises some of the challenges facing digital leaders:

“The challenge is how you get the organization to embrace looming change…’how do we set up capabilities to make change happen?’,” he says.

Fostering community and team work

As business models evolve with technology, a more horizontal executive structure seems to also emerge.

“Hierarchy fails in the digital age because it’s slow and bureaucratic, whereas the new world is constantly changing and requires immediate responses” according to the World Economic Forum. 

Whereas a few decades ago, leaders took on a more authoritarian role, they now need to focus on managing communities and fostering team work.

According to Manfred Kets de Vries, professor at INSEAD, finding the right team is crucial for leaders.

“What’s really at stake here is finding the right combination of complementary talents. Leaders should be asking themselves “how do we build a diverse and creative team that can reach better decisions?”

Human touch

We must not forget the element of human touch. While leaders need to immerse themselves in technology and change, they also must remember to stay available to team members.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) points out that digital transformations will likely fail if workers are disengaged - and engaging workers falls to the leaders.

HBR suggests leaders put themselves “between the chaos of change and their people” to aid workers through changes and ensure more engaged participation.

Highly developed interpersonal skills are also key to effective leadership. Getting to know staff on a personal level and developing rapport will indisputably lead to higher levels of engagement.

A Gallup study found that the key to engaged workers are threefold:
1. Daily communication with managers
2. Leaders’ effort to get to know workers
3. Investment in personal development

While leaders of the digital age need to focus extending knowledge and becoming more tech-savvy, they also need to embrace the more traditional, human aspects of effective leadership: mastering the art of listening, motivating and building and managing well-rounded teams.

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CATEGORY Leadership

TYPE Article