The Impact of the Digital Revolution on Leadership

by  Alison Brattle  |  Leadership Development
The Impact of the Digital Revolution on Leadership

Today, workplaces are undergoing a digital revolution which is helping to transform entire industries and forcing companies to change the way they operate. Digitisation has the potential to increase productivity and efficiency, while also improving communication, and remote working is no longer an exception but an expectation.

However, in addition to the transformation of the workplace itself, the digital age is having an impact upon leadership and, more specifically, on what is expected of a leader. This will have an effect not only on existing leaders, but on future leadership development as well. How exactly is the digital revolution impacting senior business figures?

The Age of Disruption

One of the major threats facing leaders comes in the form of “horizontal innovation” driven by technology. Increasingly, companies are using digital innovations to expand into entirely new markets. Indeed, for several years, business leaders have been warned that they are living in a so-called “age of disruption.”

According to a 2015 IMB global C-suite study, no single business sector is safe from the threat of new entrants. This presents a challenge for leaders, who were previously able to see competition coming and take action. Now, instead, they must accept that threats could be invisible and be prepared to adapt when those threats present themselves.

Technological Literacy

While it is not essential for a leader to possess all of the digital skills required for their business to operate, a level of technological literacy is required in order to understand those operations and to address the requirements of the business effectively. However, research suggests there is a worrying lack of literacy among senior staff.

For example, the majority of respondents to an E-Consultancy survey on digital leadership stated that it was important for leaders to be “technology literate” in a modern business environment, yet almost a third of respondents deemed the leadership within their own organisation to be “not very” or “not at all” technology literate.

This would suggest that, moving forward, leadership training will need to evolve to improve this level of literacy and bring leaders up to speed with the realities of modern technology.

Digital Skills Gap

Research conducted by Accenture Strategy found that almost three quarters of leaders expect their company to “go digital” within the next three years, but only one in five say their business is already digital. Therefore, it will be necessary for the majority of leaders to oversee some kind of transformational programme.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is making sure they put together a workforce with the appropriate skills to manage this transformation. According to a study by Capgemini Consulting and MIT, 77 percent of all transformation programmes fail due to a digital skills gap, which prevents the required changes from occurring.

“The lack of digital skills is the one of greatest challenges [leaders] face,” Deborah Brecher, Managing Director of Accenture Strategy, writes in the Philadelphia Business Journal. “Only half say they actually have a strategy in place to manage and develop the skills and talent they need in this digital reality.”

Leadership Characteristics

One of the most interesting things about the digital revolution’s impact upon leadership has been a change in perception regarding what constitutes a good leader. In the past, traditional leadership qualities included things like vision, conviction and a competitive drive, but views are now shifting slightly.

E-Consultancy asked participants in their study to pick out key characteristics required for a leader in the new digital age and it was notable that technological literacy featured heavily. However, respondents also felt it was important for leaders to be “data driven,” which clearly reflects the importance of “big data” in modern business.

How have you seen digital advances change leadership? Tell me about it in the comments!
Photo Credit: Fotolia Maksim Kabakou

About The Author

Articles By alisonbrattle
Alison Brattle is a marketing manager of the UK based sales training and leadership development firm AchieveGlobal, specialises in providing exceptional leadership management training courses and helps organisations develop business strategies to achieve sales success.

What People Are Saying

John Smith  |  23 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Alison – thanks for this thought-provoking and articulate post:)

I agree with your comments about the digital competence of current leadership in many companies, but I would imagine that is at least somewhat generationally-connected. I don’t mean that older folks cannot be technologically and digitally saavy, since they certainly are. I mean that top managers and leaders at larger organizations probably did not get to their current posts by honing those skills, but rather used other strengths.

Since the world is changing at a faster pace now, newer and younger leaders will be forced to possess and demonstrate deeper understanding of the technological aspects of business and the digital world than their older “brothers”.

Having grown up with technology, many need only to incorporate what they know about that technology with a strong business sense. Just being able to use the “toys” is not enough for leadership.

I also agree with your assessment about the changing nature of leadership, especially around that “big data” element. This is not about being a Twitter rockstar or having a viral video of the annual state of the organization speech, but about being able to use the current and evolving technology to make better business decisions.

I think agility figures in here somewhere, since technology now allows us to move at the speed of the Internet (not my home Internet, which can be quite slow, but at the pace of information flow, such as 24-hour news cycles and other output). Business is a much faster game now.

Appreciate this very interesting article:)


Konstantinos Zacharis  |  09 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Dear Alison,
I read your comments and I think I must clarify a few things. The terms “digital skills” and “digital or technology literacy” are not quite the same, with the first being more specific and specialized. Also the “data-driven” characteristic is rather vague. Perhaps you wanted to say “information-retrieval skills from vast repositories”, which is something more tangible.
Anyway, e-leadership is a rather new term which needs time to mature to a rigid description.

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