DevelopmentWhat is Digital Leadership?

What is Digital Leadership?

I have a difficult task. In order to promote our upcoming two-day digital marketing event called Shift, taking place in London on 24 - 25 May, I have to define what it means to be a digital leader.

I have a difficult task. In order to promote our upcoming two-day digital marketing event called Shift, taking place in London on 24 – 25 May, I have to define what it means to be a digital leader.

Why ‘difficult’? Well if you’ve noticed our own editorial shift over the past 6 months on SEW and ClickZ, then you’ll be aware what a dislike we’ve taken towards buzzwords. It’s the digital marketing industry, there are a lot of them about. But confetti-like usage of jargon doesn’t help anybody.

The main focus of Shift 2016 is to help you become a ‘digital leader’. However this is a hugely wide-ranging term that can mean a vast array of things. And as we all know, the more general a term is, the more open to interpretation it is, and the more chance someone will flower it up with unnecessary language. Just check out the Wikipedia definition of ‘single customer view’.

So here I am, about to answer the question ‘what is Digital Leadership?’ as clearly and succinctly as possible without sounding like… well… the Wikipedia definition of ‘single customer view’…

What is Digital Leadership?

To be a digital leader you need to not only excel at every discipline touched by digital within your organisation but also set an example to other organisations and individuals who are struggling with digital transformation themselves.

You’re all okay with what ‘digital transformation’ means right? Because if not, we’re screwed.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation ultimately means putting the customer as the sole focus of all your organisation’s actions.

You already know that digital has opened up this amazing and occasionally intimidating ability to measure, track and market to customers in a way that we’ve never achieved reliably before. So if a company has digitally transformed it means it can react relevantly, in the moment to the ‘right person’.

And by the ‘right person’ I mean ‘the person most likely to give a crap about what you’re selling’.

Only a truly digitally transformed company will be able to do that, because it has the skills, tools and processes in place to find that right person.

And of course digital transformation isn’t just about the tools you buy for your company or the analytics packages you install, which you stare at blankly from time to time, without really knowing how they can help. Digital transformation is about the culture and the people at the heart of your company.

There needs to be full understanding of exactly what digital can do for the entire organisation and its customers, and this can only come about through education and training. The whole team needs to be on board, right from the upper echelons of the C-suite to your intern that started a week ago.

And this is where Digital Leadership comes in…


Sidenote: do you know how difficult it is to visualise ‘digital leadership’ without using cheesy stock photography or those aliens from Toy Story? Very!

Who are the digital leaders?

Digital leaders can be the people within your own organisation. The ones who are driving major change and who can prove with stone-cold data that digital transformation not only benefits the company, but will provide amazing customer experiences and create loyalty and yes… revenue.

A digital leader can be anyone, at any pay grade… CEO, office manager, CTO, editor, the IT person… it doesn’t matter. If that person can make a difference to your organisation with ideas that can improve the culture of your team and the interactions your customers have with your brand, then they’re a digital leader.

If you’re a digital leader you’re also open, honest and transparent. As an example, I just used three words that describe the exact same thing. I need to work on that because you probably tuned-out halfway through the second word. Sorry.

But seriously, every process, every channel, every decision made, every screw-up, every win, should be open to everybody. Every team should work with each other, not fenced off in its own little clique.

Every employee should feel comfortable to bring any ideas they have to the table. Every one needs to be brave and yet be confident they’re supported by the rest of the team.

Digital Leadership doesn’t only have to come from within. A digital leader for you can be a brand, a business or a person operating on the other side of the world, in a totally different industry, who you feel inspired by.

A true digital leader will also help those companies that are struggling with the demands of digital change.

Heroes and villains

As a great example of a hero, check out, a centralised government hub developed by the GDS that has worked incredibly hard to transform traditionally complicated services, constrained by limited accessibility and endless paperwork, into quick and easy-to-use online services.

UK bank holidays GOV.UK

What makes the GDS team even more heroic is the fact that every single webpage and tool it has developed to make its visitors lives easier, has been uploaded to Github so any government in the world can download them for free and provide their own visitors with the same brilliant experience.

You hear people talk endlessly about new companies that best represent digital transformation. Uber is such a ubiquitous example that we now talk about any connection-based start-up being the Uber of something. And Uber should indeed be applauded for its success. It has put the human being using its service right at the centre of the experience and in complete control, particularly when it comes to convenience and cost.

However with the controversies surrounding the way it treats its drivers and the graceless way it has confronted its opponents, can it really be said that it’s a digital leader?

Next week we’re going to ask you to nominate your own digital hero and villain.

han solo gets a kiss

darth vader
Then during the run-up to Shift, we’ll be engaging in a two-month long conversation about what it means to be a digital leader, and we hope you will join us in the discussions. These will take place here on SEW, at ClickZ and on our social channels.

Those that interact the most will be rewarded for their efforts, and this will all be trackable on a leaderboard. We’ll follow up with more details next week.

In the meantime, take a look at the line-up we have at Shift – it features speakers from BBC, Travelex, Heathrow, Vodafone and Nissan – and think about how you too can become the driver of change and ultimately a digital leader. Book your place today.


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