cover photo Reflect Blog
Ingo Kallenbach

Digital Leadership

The story of the Tower of Babel ends with monolingual mankind having to disperse because they suddenly speak all the different languages. In times of globalisation, this hurdle is almost completely overcome. In view of digital networking, many challenges in the global community can be mastered quickly and successfully.
As a result, large parts of humanity can participate in solutions, communicate their individual thoughts and advertise. In the best case scenario, this will result in joint ideas and approaches to solutions.
In "permanent beta", key words such as "New Work", industry 4.0, agile transformation can be found in large numbers in workshops, seminars, articles and scientific papers.
In this series the term "digital leadership" is also found in good society.

What is digital leadership?

Digital Leadership, Leadership 4.0 or New Leadership refers to an approach that is designed to meet the challenges of digitization.
Composed of the terms "digital" and "leadership", it is about a leadership style that represents an important complement to previous leadership styles in the context of digital transformation.

What justification does digital leadership have?

In response to the question "Which HR processes do you think are gaining in importance as digitalization progresses", "Leadership and Culture Management" was at the top of the list of HR managers surveyed (Kienbaum 2018).
When asked about the biggest challenges of digital transformation for work organization (Hays 2016), a majority of the more than 500 executives surveyed answered that managing the increasing complexity of collaboration was the biggest challenge.
Consequently, there is a logical need for a leadership style that can be described as an appropriate response to the ongoing changes in digital transformation.

What drivers require digital leadership?

Driver 1 - Coordination

a.    The increasing globalization promotes multinational cooperation, in which employees of an organization in India, China or the USA have to be coordinated and supervised, coached and managed in project teams.
b.    One of the most important values of Generation Y, which is assuming more and more responsibility in the job market, is the compatibility of family, leisure and career. "Work-Life Balance" is thus increasingly forcing people to work from home.
c.    Virtual spaces, in the form of "social media", Skype, forums, chat rooms, have become part of everyday life for many people. Generation Z in particular no longer knows anything else, and Gen Y has also grown with it.

Driver 2 - Functionality

Today we often find forms of organisation and leadership that combine disciplinary and technical lateral leadership within matrix organisation systems. In order to be able to lead professionally and functionally, attitude and skills are required to enable employees to successfully pursue the company's goals.

Driver 3 - Efficiency

More and more technical system landscapes and IT collaboration platforms are finding their way into companies' business processes. The goal is to standardize, optimize, and standardize, thereby increasing efficiency.
"Google Hangouts" as a video conferencing solution, "Dropbox" as a central data storage, "Basecamp" as a project management tool or "Slack" as a communication app offer the possibility to use these in parallel in order to promote cooperation and generate added value through increased efficiency. (The fact that these efficiency increases require further intelligent solutions will be discussed elsewhere).

Driver 4 - Digital Working

Work processes are increasingly running digitally. No customer service agent picks up a piece of paper with the work orders at the company headquarters in the morning. Often a look at the smartphone at home is sufficient to know what needs to be done. Orders are digitally documented in lists, evaluated and can be viewed and commented on by the manager.



What does digital leadership require from an executive?

As stated at the beginning, digital leadership means an extension of the previous leadership styles (link to balanced leadership) by the facet of digital leadership. Three aspects are essential for this:

1. Attitude
Self-reflection is the beginning of everything. How open are you personally to an increasingly changing world of work? What do you welcome, but what do you reject? What is your own behaviour as a user of digital instruments?
An honest, but ultimately open attitude towards digitisation is the decisive factor when we talk about digital leadership. It is not a question of having to be a technology freak, but above all not of being a technology refuser. It's about openness, curiosity, a change of perspective, trying out and verifying meaningfulness and efficiency. The inner attitude results in behaviour that shows itself on the outside.

2. Role model
Talking is one thing, really doing it, something completely different. People let themselves be convinced of how executives actually act. They can therefore exemplify digital change and be open to new forms of work out of an inner conviction. And that doesn't mean being able to operate your own iPhone, send an invitation via Outlook or use CRM programs in your company.
Everything that can be digitized will also be digitized. Executives have a special responsibility to create framework conditions that do justice to this claim.

3.  Healthy mix
With all the advantages and necessities discussed, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. It will still be crucial to find a successful balance between direct, "analogue" exchange and digital interaction. After all, we are dealing with people.
Here, relationship, body language and the building of trust are decisive factors that enable a healthy and balanced leadership (link). It is not about "either-or", but about "as well as".

Digital leadership therefore requires balanced leadership. The combination of digital, innovative, adaptive and trusting, relationship-oriented behaviour is the mixture that enables healthy, successful leadership behaviour. Especially in times of constant change, of "permanent beta", managers do well to remember this, to be prepared to give up familiar behavior patterns, to learn new things.


Digital leadership is a leadership style that represents a necessary and helpful leadership behavior within the digital transformation in the course of digitization. The advancing globalization, technical system landscapes and digital work processes require an open, curious, experimental attitude and balanced leadership from managers.

If you would like to find out more about "balanced leadership", employee development or coaching, then you are welcome to inform yourself about our services in this area or simply contact us.



Hays. (2016) In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges of digital transformation for work organization?