Strengthening digital leadership skills

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Corporate structures in the course of time


Realising that corporate structures change as a result of technological transition and that it also has an impact on the management of personnel is self-evident in HR. Nevertheless, investing in the development of management levels is unfortunately neglected too often.

Due to the shift in focus that has developed around digitization, the development of employees has gained much more in weighting. Soft skills and a right mindset have become much more important concomitant with the required subject matter. Skilled employees, for example, should have a solid grasp of their area of specialisation, but should also be able to cover and understand other related topics. Executives are expected to have strong digital expertise, among other things. In order to update these skills and all other competencies regularly, it is recommended that all companies, regardless of the industry, keep their best employees, senior executives and high potentials up-to-date with qualified training programmes, so as to have skilled experts on board for future requirements.

Switching analogue leading skills to digital ones

The success of digital transformation is also significantly dependent on the leadership skills of the management; this connection is often not recognized. These skills are a key factor for success when it comes to preparing and changing a company for digitisation. To be able to really optimise workflow, you need to keep an eye on the broader context. Accordingly, many companies place characteristics such as ‘mental flexibility’ and ‘creative thinking’ at the top of their wish list of personality traits, which their management team should have.

In an environment that is becoming more and more digital, change takes place more noticeably and quicker. Many executives who manage their teams today have developed themselves from an operative position to the role of a leader. They often know the daily work of their employees from the time when they themselves fulfilled these tasks.

Looking back at the past that may have only been short is, however, often no longer enough to meet requirements that have changed! Today’s executives, and tomorrow’s leaders, in particular, must be familiar with the rules of spry working methods such as scrum or kanban, as well as types of flexible organisation and goals, such as objective and key results (OKR). However, only ‘knowing’ these methods for successful implementation is often not sufficient. Tomorrow’s executives need to be ready and able to deal with necessary short-term changes in planning in day-to-day business as confidently as with correcting strategic approaches. In addition, it is important to pursue one’s own goals with selected specialists who have also mastered such topics, which the executives themselves have only partially completed in their achievement portfolios.

Put simply, tomorrow’s executives need the talent of a conductor who harmonically directs an orchestra of soloists, even as the score changes as they play. This way of taking action is a real attack on the status quo of current leadership. Nonetheless, the old methods are still carried out and practised in many companies. But spry learning and leadership can be taught like hard-skills and thus offer enormous opportunities. It is a good opportunity for executives using classical techniques to be a role model for their employees in terms of “lifelong learning” as well.

Lacking, inadequate expertise within one’s own management level must be balanced by the consistent development of personnel or secured by hiring people that are not part of the industry but are suitable for managing a company. Neither of the measures is free of cost, but those who continuously delay doing this for cost reasons or even completely ignore it must think about the potential risk where the financial consequences of bad leadership could be much more expensive. The recognition, promotion and development of human potential is an important and strategic measure for promising digitalisation.

The requirement for ‘lifelong learning’ increases

Only a few people have the education or experience that is enough for the required skills. On the road to entrepreneurial success and especially with regard to digital transformation, it is important for companies to make their employees fit and also to pay special attention that their executives are trained further so that their skills are always up to date. It requires a variety of training opportunities and organisation of work to promote learning. Companies with sustainable success will distinguish themselves by the fact that they value the potential of their specialists and executives adequately and provide them with comprehensive support. The opportunities for support are much broader than many companies believe. Here, in addition to the usual working methods of the development of personnel, experts who are not on the agenda of day-to-day business need to be asked. Companies that want to be successful in the long term have to anticipate the market and have to have the know-how of top executives, which may only be needed in 2-3 years time.


Author: Thomas Wetzel, Business Unit Manager Training & Coaching, Hager Unternehmensberatung

Thomas Wetzel has almost 25 years of experience as a trainer and coach of employees and entrepreneurs