The 6 Skills You Need to Be a Leader in the Digital Age

Keith Krach
January 11, 2017

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has brought about the advent of the digital age—a period in which all successful business is a direct result of a company leader’s ability to navigate an ever-increasing degree of business velocity and the demands of near-constant change. To be an effective leader in the business market of tomorrow requires the following six qualities.

A customer-centric mindset

In the digital age, customers buy more than the product or service your company offers. Today’s consumers are more focused than ever on engagement with the firms they purchase from, and they expect to receive a consistent, reliable service or product from a company that they are proud to identify with. Combine that with a growing expectation for faster service times and direct access to the businesses they patronize via avenues like social media, and no business can afford to have a leader who doesn’t put customers at the heart of his or her operations.

A comfortable approach to change

As technology continues to evolve at an astronomical rate, leaders who want to thrive in the digital market do not have the option of adhering to traditional business models. Change in today’s business world is not merely a possibility, but a fact, and those who do not learn to move with it will find it increasingly difficult to maintain a market share.

A great example of this quick-moving change can be seen in the rise of mobile usage over the last several years. In 2007, the difference between the number of people using desktop devices versus mobile devices to access the Internet was stark, with desktop users nearly triple the number of mobile users. Mobile finally overtook desktop for Internet access in 2016, and this development has required businesses to significantly alter their marketing strategies and digital storefronts in order to capture customers’ attention. Any leader who wants his or her company to thrive in a business world marked by change must adopt a change-positive mindset and put emphasis on the ability to adapt to new realities.

A tendency toward innovation

Beyond adapting to the changes created by consumers, new technologies, and the market, the best leaders in an age of digital disruption are those who have a proclivity for innovation. This trait manifests itself as a commitment to creative thinking and a willingness to tolerate calculated risk. Leaders who are innovative foster a company culture where employees feel comfortable freely exchanging ideas and are encouraged to incorporate creativity into their work. Company leaders who embrace innovation and continually look for ways to improve and simplify business operations and processes are more likely to set trends, rather than struggle to keep up with them.

A healthy knowledge of technology

Before the advent of the digital age, the responsibility for understanding the role of technology in business could be mostly relegated to the employee who fulfilled the IT function in a company. However, in a post-digital world, it’s important for executive leadership to have a thorough understanding of the effects that modern technologies can have on business processes. Effective leaders in the digital age do not ignore the importance of new technological developments like Big Data and cyber security threats, and they don’t rely solely on their IT teams to understand technology for them. Leaders who thrive in the digital age don’t need to understand the minutiae of the mechanics behind these technologies, but they should grasp the implications of these tools for their company, industry, and even society as a whole.

An ability to embrace failure

The leaders who most effectively guide companies are those who support their teams in times of both success and failure. Digital leaders, buoyed by their commitment to innovation, understand that in order to develop competitive ideas, a company must be willing to take some risks. When the risk does not pay off, effective leaders in the digital age do not reprimand their employees, but rather encourage those teams to let go of failed ideas, figure out what caused the problem, and then get started on the next initiative as quickly as possible. The best leaders see learning opportunities in unsuccessful projects, and teach their employees to use failure as a fuel to push them toward their next success.

A sense of emotional intelligence

According to research conducted by the World Economic Forum, over one-third of today’s most important business skills will have changed by the year 2020. One skill that didn’t rank within the top 10 in 2015, but which will rank as sixth most important by 2020 is emotional intelligence. Leaders need this skill because without it, they cannot manage teams effectively. Emotional intelligence is about awareness as applied to one’s own actions and emotions, as well as an ability to gauge the emotions and motivations of others. Leaders who learn to master emotional intelligence are better equipped to motivate and manage employees, and assemble cohesive teams that work harmoniously and maintain better communication, leading to greater overall efficiency.

Keith Krach

Keith Krach is Chairman of DocuSign, The Global Standard for Digital Transaction Management.