The Challenges of Digital Business Leadership

Why digital business leadership?

Leadership 300x198 The Challenges of Digital Business Leadership

A focus on Digital Business Leadership is particularly relevant today because there are new paradigms in these changing times with the challenges to the status quo coming from Digital Technology and the resulting pillars of Digital Business Leadership:

1. ‘Let Go’

The ‘old command and control’ model is no longer fit for purpose and business leaders cling to it today at their peril. Some professions are able to erect a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around their business. But, as the demise of whole industries shows – books, records and travel, for example – and with the imminent digital disruption on other areas such as education, much knowledge is no longer immune to the threat and automation of the 69p App!

Part of the reason for this was the inability of those in control to recognise and respond to the changing dynamics.

So, years of service are no longer enough, and there’s no comfort and more importantly no future in being one of the HIPPO’s. Today’s leaders need to recognise that speed of decision making, adaptability and responsiveness will distinguish the able from the less able with the need too to be able to embrace uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity.

2. Develop Networks & Ecosystems

In addition to the myth of the ‘all seeing all knowing’ leader is the idea that the prevalent but dysfunctional ‘silo’ model optimises business performance. It simply serves to emphasise a rusting hierarchical model and in today’s digital business world its inefficiencies manifestly outweigh its benefits.

The talk today is of networks and ecosystems where the view is across the business – Michael Porter’s Value Chain was an earlier way of looking at this. These are not ‘hardwired’ as a silo might be, but transient and configured to meet the demands of the moment. They will have, too, internal and external components of ‘connectness’ as they tap into nodes of knowledge wherever they may be for value creation. A similar business wide view is an imperative too when mapping the Customer Journey from a Digital Marketing and a Digital Process perspective.

So power shifts, there’s a need to substitute control for influencing, motivating, authenticity and role modelling – doing, not telling – and you have some of the sense of the attributes of a Digital Business Leader. Note that far from being a threat, technology helps strengthen a leader’s ability to work in this way.

3. Build a Digital Culture & Mindset

“I changed the hardware, changed the software — and then I had to change the brainware,” so said Colin Powell.

And, as in any form of change management, it’s the brainware where most of the challenges lie isn’t it?

It starts at the top of course and we’ve already identified that Digital Business Leaders have to model the required behaviour. In the pre-digital world we sometimes expected too much from our leaders. Those expectations are still there but today’s informed businesses are now actively encouraging people to take responsibility for leadership at all levels – whether it’s managers, backroom or front of house staff.

What might the core elements of a Digital Culture be?

Distributing authority to empower and motivate your people;
More listening less telling;
• Less of a focus on getting it right first time – relative speed beats absolute perfection;
• An understanding that mistakes are about learning and that greater trust is created by admitting mistakes – particularly at the top;
Multi-disciplinary teams used more widely to give people a voice and draw on contributions from inside and outside the business;
Drawing on the diversity – particularly age based – of the workforce using, for example, upward mentoring by the digital natives to develop tech savvy leaders – the digital immigrants;
Functional fusion as between marketing and IT;
Evidence based decision making using analytics and tested hypotheses;
Nonstop learning to develop the skills more for tomorrow’s business than today’s.


If you’d like a conversation about Digital Business Leadership then talk to Rod Willis or Beth Hughes, members of the Knowledge Community. For related topics see also Digital Business Marketing, Digital Business People, Digital Business Processes and Digital Business Strategy.