Digital Leadership

July 27, 2023 •

7 min reading

Why digital leadership is a non-negotiable for future success

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In today's fast-paced and constantly changing digital world, businesses and organizations face a pressing challenge: how to effectively grow digital leadership.

Gone are the days when a good mastery of Powerpoint, Excel sheets, online meetings, and email was enough to succeed in a management role. In today’s workplace, digital leadership requires far more than digital literacy, it means being fluent and flexible in the digital sphere and having a fine-tuned set of technical and soft skills. As leadership roles continue to evolve rapidly, with digital technologies playing a crucial role, it’s important for managers and leaders to understand these skills and develop them proactively for future success.


Why good digital leadership is non-negotiable

Compared to past decades, digital skills are now essential to nearly every role in today’s workplace. Even before the pandemic, a UK government report showed that digital skills were required in at least 82% of online advertised vacancies. As basic jobs and non-managerial roles have evolved to require an increasingly complex range of digital skills, managers and leaders are having to adopt and integrate digital leadership skills, tools, and strategies even faster.

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And this phenomenon is not just applicable to purely digital skills. It is the evolution of the leadership mindset in parallel to the evolution of the modern workplace and employees.  Indeed, traditional leadership styles are no longer sufficient to meet the demands of the digital workforce: i.e. the top-down mentality of making decisions based on one’s own expertise and experience doesn’t fly in an era when data-driven decision-making is expected. Other key factors driving this evolution include the move towards remote work, the ubiquitous use of digital communication and collaboration tools, and the need to think critically and creatively about both the physical and the digital sphere.

According to a survey of 15,000 workers by the Adecco Group, "maintaining a good work-life balance is just as important as salary. Career development; up- and reskilling opportunities; feeling trusted; leaders who exercise empathy; and a company with great purpose are also key components for an engaged, loyal workforce."

Overall, digital leadership plays a critical role in driving organizational success. At an executive level, this means being able to drive digital transformation, build a digital-first culture, and prepare their organizations for the future of work. At a managerial level, it means using digital leadership skills to enhance team and/or department performance, improve customer experience, speed up time to market, implement solutions, communicate better, and generate data-driven insights.


What are the most in-demand digital skills?

Today’s leaders need a highly specialized set of skills to navigate the complexities of the digital landscape. On one hand, they must be digitally literate concerning the tools that are specific to their roles or teams. Digital literacy examples include being able to use software programs such as Adobe Photoshop for designers; Data analysis tools like R Management or Stata for business analysts; and Salesforce for sales and marketing professionals. On the other, digital leaders must have the right soft skills to manage people and teams using digital tools with the right mindset. The following qualities and skill sets are essential for digital leadership.


Strong digital literacy skills

In order to make informed and pragmatic decisions about technology, digital leaders must:

  • Stay up-to-date on the latest technological tools and trends
  • Be able to evaluate the impact of new technologies on their organizations
  • Use data to inform decision-making.
  • Assess and manage risks related to data privacy and security.


Growth and experimentation mindset

To drive digital innovation, leaders must be agile and flexible and adapt their opinions quickly.

  • Embrace change and view failure as an opportunity for growth.
  • Encourage curiosity and creativity, creating a culture where innovation can flourish.
  • Embrace continuous learning for themselves and their teams
  • Empower their teams to make data-driven decisions.


Ability to foster collaboration

People are the greatest resource of any organization and success lies in promoting key skills.

  • Identify and recruit people who have skills for current and future work opportunities.
  • Proactively nurture talented people to retain and motivate them.
  • Create a culture of teamwork and engagement that celebrates group success.
  • Improve collaboration by facilitating remote work and streamlined virtual teamwork.


Clear and inspiring communication skills

Communicating on strategy is where the heavy lifting happens, so it’s vital for leaders to:

  • Model clear two-way communication with stakeholders and employees.
  • Share a well-defined strategic vision to get stakeholders to buy in.
  • Talk about what success looks like and the roadmap to get there.
  • Use active listening and teach others to do the same.

"Digital transformation requires a cultural shift in how processes are completed."

Employees have to become accustomed to experimenting regularly with their processes and even sometimes fail in their efforts to innovate. Businesses might find that they must sometimes step away from their old processes(...), in favor of experimenting with innovative solutions that have not had the same extensive testing.

It is only by adopting these best practices and fully integrating the employees into the mindset of digital innovation that brands can remain at the forefront of their industries and continue to serve customers with the care that they have come to expect.

Avik Bhattacharya
Consultant at EHL Education Consulting


How to address the digital skills gap

For people to adapt to a digital transformation, they must also have the skills needed to effectively use new technology. However, many digital skills gaps plague people across all industry sectors. In the United States, about 1 in 3 workers have limited or no digital skills, and in the UK, about 43 percent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) vacancies go unfilled because workers do not have the technological skills needed to fill them. In other words, the skills gaps remain a big roadblock to digital leadership.

Consequently, businesses need to find ways to incorporate digital learning opportunities into their digital transformation plan. Including workshops and seminars that empower employees and managers to embrace digital transformation and new tools is one way to reduce the skills gap. Creating an environment where continuous learning is expected and appreciated within the organizations is also very helpful. Helping managers to modernize and build technological skills serves both individuals and organizations.


Experiential learning improves digital leadership skills

While some digital literacy skills can be easily acquired through training and courses, digital soft skills are a different matter. Unlike technical skills that can be learned through lectures and theoretical exercises, digital soft skills require hands-on experience in real-world situations.

Yet experiential learning doesn’t necessarily mean on-site courses, it can also be done in a digital learning environment, as long as the course is designed correctly. Experiential learning requires that individuals be exposed to real-world situations that enable them to apply their digital soft skills in innovative, creative, and adaptive ways. It encourages individuals to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from their experiences in a safe and controlled environment, ultimately leading to better outcomes.

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As a leader in its field, EHL Hospitality Business School offers a portfolio of graduate courses and professional training programs based on four academic pillars, of which one is Experiential Education. As such, EHL’s Master’s degrees and MBAs all use the latest digital tools and incorporate high-tech trends into the curriculum to develop digital leadership skills throughout the program.


"At EHL’s Graduate School, we address the digital skills gap through an integrated digital approach, and we equally design and deliver tailored courses that evolve with the needs of the markets."

For example, in the course Service Innovation by Design, we train participants in the skillset to design digital service offerings that speak to current and evolving market demands while conveying the toolkit to lead these processes within their respective companies going forward. Central to this design process is the adoption of psychological and sociological insights that allow for a deep understanding of both the customer’s and your own needs.

Additionally, EHL offers many executive education programs delivered by industry experts and designed for professionals who want to gain experience and upskill in targeted areas for the most up-to-date knowledge

Nicole Hinrichs
Associate Dean of Degree Programs at EHL Graduate School


Striking the balance: High-tech and human-centric leadership

Given the growing need for strong digital leadership across all industries and activities, today’s businesses must prioritize leadership training and skills development in this area. And the most effective way to improve digital skill sets is with guided practice in real-world situations. Therefore, providing team leaders and managers with the chance to participate in upskilling and short courses that integrate digital themes with experiential education is an excellent way to patch up the skills gap. And looking to graduates from degree programs that are based on experiential education is also a surefire way to bring digitally-savvy talent into an organization.

Whatever tools and techniques leaders choose to harness the ever-growing digital wave, they must seek to be equally high-tech and human-centric, for without this balance the results will not lead to success long term.