The 6 Common Characteristics and Behaviors of Successful Digital Leaders

We in the business community often focus on an overall vision and the underlying digital strategy, instead of evaluating the characteristics of the decision maker responsible for its success. We ask, “What is the company’s vision?” when it might serve us better to ask, “What type of leader sets the most successful vision?” It is one thing to set a great vision for the organization, but it won’t hold water if the leader backing it lacks key characteristics that inspire employees and customers alike to also get behind it.

Here are some of the characteristics and behaviors we’ve observed in successful leaders who are charged with setting a company vision in the digital world:

Curiosity – Fostering a spirit of curiosity is essential for inventiveness, ingenuity, and creativity. Always being curious about the workings of the company, about the latest technology, and about customer needs is the first step toward successful digital business leadership. Curious leaders see themselves as explorers blazing a trail and will enthusiastically invest in systems that allow them and their workforce to reduce the cost of curiosity.

Empathy – Studies have shown that this characteristic actually increases return on investment (“ROI”) in all kinds of companies. When you see the world from the perspective of your employees—and your customers—you’ll have a much better chance at driving a digital vision. It seems that varying levels of sociopathy, which is prevalent at the top levels of many enterprises, doesn’t drive a great vision as much as empathy does.

Customer-centricity – What’s happening in the digital landscape isn’t because business decision makers are defining digital strategies. It’s happening because the increasingly tech-entitled customer is demanding the best experiences or going elsewhere. The most successful leaders see everything they do through the lens of the customer. This means that when setting a vision, they focus on the desires and pain points of the customer and then think about how technology can augment the business model to deliver what the customer wants.

Authenticity – There are leaders who are good at communicating and then there are leaders who are great at authentically communicating. This is about being trustworthy, forthright, and consistent in communications with both employees and customers. The term means different things to different people (there is a great blog article that rethinks its true meaning), but the main thread is usually about honesty. Effective leaders know that authentic communications have a much better chance at being adopted by employees as the message flows through the ranks and then out to the customer.

End-to-end connectivity – The challenge in many enterprises is that leaders often operate in siloes, and within those organizations there are fiefdoms that are all vying for attention and validation. A vision—even a strong one—can only prevail if the leader is able to see many perspectives and also be in a position to connect the dots across the organization. This type of leader will proactively seek out key influencers and proceed to build bridges and alliances between them.

Balance – In today’s fast-paced business world, an equilibrium between day-to-day operations and long-term strategy is key. It’s also extremely difficult. Leadership tends to get caught up in what’s right in front of them, but the best leaders understand that digital strategy cannot be shirked or abandoned if they want the digital business of their dreams. This type of person will have a good balance between two kinds of appointments on their busy calendars: those that address everyday issues that keep the business running smoothly, and those that address what’s coming down the road and how to best prepare.