Digital Leadershiph: Robot looks at skull - managementberatung | coaching
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6 min.


Digital Leaders - anything but robots!

From Sabine Walter, Head of netzwerk managementberatung | coaching

We are on the way to a new age. Digitalisation is the number one topic, which is why the word is often used and brings to light linguistic creations that are worth looking behind: Digital Natives and Digital Leaders. What's behind the terms? If not that of a robot, then what skills do managers need to successfully shape the digital transformation?

Digital Natives - Digitisation in the Blood?

The term "digital natives" suggests that we are dealing with a generation that was given a digital world as a matter of course almost in the womb. They move easily in digital media, are able to develop them further and drive digital processes, business models and the like qua their birth period. That this is not the case is shown, among other things, by an international comparative study of the digital skills of eighth graders presented in the September issue of brand eins, published in November 2019.

It says: "Even though teenagers use digital media all the time in their private lives, they often know little about the possibilities of the internet beyond pure consumption." 97% of 12-year-olds are online regularly, but what they can do digitally is open emails, click links and paste a word into a text. In short, they can consume "digital content and applications" but not design and create them on their own. Or as the Deutschlandfunk headline puts it in its summary of the study: "A third of pupils can only click and swipe".

Let's look at the digital leader.

What skills does a digital leader need?

If you read through studies and literature, you will find many mentions of competences. These competences can be grouped into four focal points:

  • Personal competences
  • Professional and methodological skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Social-communicative competences

Let's look a little more in detail at the key competences.

Presentation of four areas of competence of digital leaders
Selected competencies of digital leaders, own presentation

Let's face it, dear leaders, there is nothing new there except for "virtual collaboration". The competencies of the managers who run the Digital transformation are competencies that have also distinguished good leaders in the past. Unfortunately, these competences have not been practised enough in companies in the past.

In order for the crucial competences to become more visible in the future, the key lies in in a changed understanding of leadership and the selection of future leaders.

A possible understanding of leadership by digital leaders

With increasing digitalisation, the most important thing for me is to leading people is at the centre of this understanding of leadership. For me, good (people) leadership is not only a matter of the head - rather, it integrates the head and the heart. It is altruistic and supportive. (Human) leadership in the 21st century follows the exclusive self-understanding of helping others to develop themselves. It follows the sole claim of giving people space to fully contribute their potential creatively, so that creativity can flow and Innovation emerge can. Leadership with head and heart is always at eye level, benevolent and individual.

If this self-image is lived, leadership will continue to be about five elementary things. It's about:

  • Credibility
  • structures
  • creating teams and promoting teamwork
  • enabling development. Human development, teams, structures, processes, ideas, ..., the company
  • And that's the point, Decisions to meet.

If this is done, trust is created. Trust in the company, trust in the processes and structures, trust in the people who work in and with the company. This creates trust in the meaningfulness and thus in future viability.

Leadership serves.

In Leadership is not about self-fulfilment, power or status. Leadership is about service. Leadership serves people - Individuals, teams, companies, society. This means once again that excellent professional competence or outstanding turnover figures may in future be even less the sole criteria for the selection of leaders.

Rather, it is about entrusting people with leadership responsibility who have the ability to do so because of their personality. What does that mean in concrete terms?

The point is, Select leaders who are stable in themselves and at the same time continuously develop themselves further. Part of this learning and development process are above all:

  • the continuous expansion of the emotional intelligence,
  • the continuous Strengthening intuitive skills and
  • the loosening of rigid behavioural patterns, such as dissolving the fear of rejection

Because then it is possible to see people in their entirety and to let them be value-free as a personality.

Now you may think: "Does that be value-free as a personality not contradict the development of potential?" No. On the contrary. It is a prerequisite for it. Because, if we can let people be value-free, we give them full confidence to develop themselves at their own pace. The task of leaders is then to give space for development instead of constricting or hindering. The task is to,

  • to encourage rather than demand, 
  • to accept instead of patronise, 
  • to ask and listen instead of saying and pretending.

A core element that contributes to employees using their development space on their own initiative is the purpose of the company and the individual participation in it. Purpose can best be translated as purpose, meaning or meaningfulness and provides an answer to the questions: "What do we want to move as a company?" "What (social) contribution do we want to make?

Purpose as a driver

Purpose has always been a key element of intrinsic motivation. But it played a subordinate role in the last 70 years. Most people worked to earn money, not to realise themselves. This attitude has changed in recent decades. The demand to shape and do something meaningful is growing. All the more sobering is the result of the Kienbaum, a management consultancy, conducted the "Purpose study„. This is because the majority of employers (60%) cannot define the purpose of their company. ad hoc name. This shows that more clarity is needed here. Creating this clarity is also the task of the digital leader.

Trust as a basis

One element that is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for sustainably successful companies is trust; specifically, a Culture of trust. This culture of trust is gradually replacing the culture of fear in many companies and thus also in our society: we are afraid of climate change, afraid of other cultures, Fear of digitalisation, fear of complexity, fear of speed, fear of no longer being needed, fear of not understanding and not mastering technologies... This fear paralyses. It makes any development, both personal and that of an organisation or a society, impossible. Fear weakens innovative power and makes trusting cooperation at eye level more difficult.

Therefore, in the phase of digital transformation, it is more important than ever to select leaders who have a high level of self-confidence and a strong relational trust, i.e. who can easily grant a leap of faith.

Authenticity as an inner anchor

This basis of trust is supported by authenticity and humanity. Leaders are people with head and heart. They must perceive themselves and are allowed to show themselves as they are.

Leaders stand out is not characterised by perfectionism or infallibility, but by through authenticity and the sincere will to develop people and to achieve a common goal that creates meaning. To be authentic requires inner greatness, of a strengthened self-confidence and the Accepting oneself.

Why is the consolidated personality so elementary?

Two aspects that the Digital Transformation brings with it are Complexity and speed. Digital leaders and their teams must be able to move confidently in both areas. This requires a high Perception and vision without which, the Success and the future viability of a company will not be possible.


Digital Leaders - Focus on People

Even if the designation "digital leader" does not suggest it, so the focus of the managers who are helping to shape the digital transformation is on people and their own humanity. Both are supported by an understanding of leadership which, by setting an example of its own continuous development, is both a role model and an impulse for the environment to develop itself and to make use of development opportunities.

The leadership competencies of digital leaders have essentially always been competencies of good leadership. Only now the time has come when they are also recognised as such. Giving trust, creating meaning and using existing potential to jointly achieve a goal that has social benefits sums up what the leadership culture in the digital age should be about. Let's do it!


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