You Must Become a Digital Leader. Here’s Why

Digital Leader

We don’t know what we don’t know.

As consultants, the above phrase is one we hear a lot. It’s a common phrase echoed across industries.

Organizations can ask themselves, “who’s responsible for figuring out what we don’t know? Getting us over the gap? Positioning us to succeed, or at least avoiding disruption?” If fingers point around the room long enough, eventually they’ll land on the leader. Leader and leadership are words bordering on overuse in the business world. At a lot of organizations, a leader is identified as such because of their tenure or title; not necessarily by their leadership ability.

I’m not trying to step into John Maxwell territory, but let’s unpack leadership a bit. What is it? In short, it’s the ability to influence desired actions and outcomes from others. If we’re looking at it in broad categories, in this writer’s humble opinion, it looks like this – vision, strategy, communication, execution, and accountability.

  • The vision to see where your organization needs to go
  • The strategic thinking to understand how you can get there
  • The communication skills to help everyone understand how to get there
  • The ability to execute projects properly and with velocity
  • The willingness to hold everyone, including yourself, responsible to do their part

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that leadership isn’t always applied evenly across an organization. It depends heavily on an individual’s background and skill set. At many organizations we visit, companies often have good financial leaders; sometimes they have leaders with a strong sales and marketing focus, however we rarely find the organization’s top leaders to be strong technologists.

For example, when it comes to financial performance, business-side leaders generally have a vision of the optimal balance sheet they would like to have. They strategically organize their assets in a way that positions them for success. They communicate with the managers of their assets on the nature of growth they want to foster. Projects are tackled appropriately, and everyone responsible is held accountable.

Now take this example and consider the technology performance of most organizations; most leaders don’t rise in their specific company through the technology side of the organization. Therefore, technology is not one of their stronger skill sets, barring they even know much at all in this area. This often holds them back from having adequate future vision on how technology will alter the organization or its market, much less helping them to appropriately choose sufficient tools for the organization to use. Therefore, they’ll pick the wrong projects, the wrong vendors, and have trouble getting technology initiatives to gain traction.

Here’s the problem with having weak technology leadership today; technology is reshaping how we perform ALL aspects of the organization. Every department now has important technology needs and sometimes even its own IT budget. Technology is re-engineering all of the processes in these departments as well: the way products or services are marketed and sold, communication methods with members or the community, and the perception of what ‘Human Resources’ means today (as opposed to 20 years ago). Even accountants traded in their abacuses (or ‘abaci’ for you fancy folk) for cloud-based accounting software long ago.

With everyone in the company asking for technology, it’s easy for a non-technology leader to be unsure about when they should say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It might be difficult to answer questions such as: should we really keep increasing our cybersecurity budget EVERY year? Do we need to build out a fancy new website this year or let the accounting department buy the new software they’ve been wanting? Leaders write the checks for these expenditures, and, without a solid footing in technology strategy, it could be money wasted.

Have no fear. If you’re reading this, saying to yourself, “darn it, that’s me!”, I have good news for you; leadership abilities for all things digital is not inherited, but learned. You can (and you must) acquire and develop these skills. Even more, if you’re a CEO or Executive Director, you should be fostering these leadership abilities in you departmental leaders.

Digital leadership abilities don’t grow organically. Developing them has to be a conscious effort.

Future Point of View has built a unique system for assessing the digital maturity of an organization. There are nine dimensions of maturity that we measure. We analyze the quality of your internal and external systems, your management of risk and control in the organization, your use of data, your workforce, your ability to transform, and much more. You can learn all about the dimensions of Digital Maturity here. Before you visit that link, can you guess the very first dimension we measure? If you said leadership, you win! We measure leadership first because of its importance in developing digital maturity: in vision-setting, strategy-building, communication, project execution, and accountability. They’re all critical components of strong digital leadership.

This dimension of digital maturity is more than just leadership; on the FPOV Digital Maturity Assessment it’s officially named Leadership Digital Readiness. Not only do you need strong leaders, you need strong leaders who will help the organization become digitally ready for changes coming in the market.

So, again, the common phrase we hear: “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

At FPOV, our goal is to develop digital leaders. These are leaders with ability to harness the power of technology to make their organizations more efficient and effective. When you can use digital tools to better execute your mission, your organization becomes stronger and more capable. This is the aim of our upcoming Technology and Leadership Series, to turn leaders into technology leaders.

If Kodak’s leaders understood how digital photography would grow alongside the improvement of camera technology in mobile devices, how might that have changed things for the company? How would you rate the digital readiness of Blockbuster’s leaders? Even though they were the industry leader in movie rentals at the turn of the century, they lost their competitive advantage (and eventually their bottom line) when rentals by mail and kiosks, and then eventually online streaming all emerged.

These are just two common examples of industries (and companies) disrupted by technology. We’re not saying those companies didn’t have leaders. However, it doesn’t appear they had digital leaders who could plan ahead for the changes that were coming. In addition, even if they had strong digital leaders who knew what was coming, the organization itself was not digitally ready to respond to the changes. This lack of readiness is the fault of leadership. Organizations in the digital transformation need leaders who understand their market and how digital impacts will change it. These strong digital leaders will forecast changes, strategize to meet the challenges the changes present, and be able to influence their team to execute necessary projects.

If this is an area of growth your organization needs, or if it’s an area where you’re not sure how your organization stacks up, measuring your current state and understanding the delta between where you are and where you want to be is the first step on the journey toward stronger Leadership Digital Readiness.

For more information about our comprehensive Digital Maturity Assessment and how it can help your organization measure your digital efforts please visit