The digital transformation is changing business models and processes and is therefore calling into question traditional management approaches. Digitization is not just about using new technologies. Established business models and management approaches have to be fundamentally changed. What does a digital leader have to do to master one of the greatest challenges for companies, digitization?“so TimeTac Time recording in the call for a blog parade in which I would like to participate. In the run-up to this article I would like to mention that I am currently working with Tobias Greff on the study “ Digital leadership in SMEs – a view from the perspective of executives “ perform. However, this is still being reviewed and will be published soon. I would therefore like to publish some of the results in advance in a summarized form.

What is digital leadership

In the study mentioned, Tobias Greff (AWS Institute for Digital Products and Processes) and I (Lindner and Greff 2018) looked at over 30 definitions of the digital leader. Together we came up with the following definition:
Digital leadership is a cross-sectional competence and a collective term for various methods, theories and tools that describe leadership and, in particular, leadership competence in the digital age (Lindner and Greff 2018).
Reading tip: What is digital leadership

What are the CHALLENGES of a digital leader?

As already mentioned in the study by Lindner and Greff (2018): Leadership, like leadership research, has always been subject to permanent change. What characterizes a manager is dealing with new challenges (Wiendick & Wiswede 1990). Leadership behavior is shaped by learning processes, self-reflection, lived vision and adaptation as well as changing framework conditions (Enste et al. 2013). One example is Taylorism, in which it was the task of the manager to achieve the maximum efficiency of employees and machines. It continued with new topics such as the increasing number of women, which sparked a gender-specific leadership discussion, or globalization, which triggered a discussion about diversity-oriented leadership. Managers are now facing increasing digitization. This has numerous challenges. In a round table Tobias Greff and I asked 6 managers about their current challenges. These are:

  • Generational conflict / digital maturity of the individual
  • Remote and distance guidance
  • Agile team leadership

To explain: Digital maturity means that some employees like to use a lot of technology and other employees even refuse to use it. A manager must therefore lead employees individually according to the digital maturity level
There is no question that all employees work in the same place. This increases the need for a virtual tour by phone, video or email. The number of so-called agile teams (e.g. Scrum), which can no longer be successfully managed using conventional methods, is also increasing.

How can a digital leader master digitization?

In the study by Lindner and Greff, 66 executives were asked about the current approaches to solving the three challenges mentioned above. The results can be found extensively in the study, but I would like to quote a few of the recommendations for action.

Generation management (from Lindner and Greff 2018)

  • Understand: Generation X, Y and Z stand for employees in three phases of digital affinity – beginners, advanced and digital natives. It is recommended to build up knowledge about the individual generations.
  • Evaluate individually: Not every employee can be clearly classified into a generation or an older employee is not always a newcomer to digitization.
  • Use acceptance: New flexible work concepts are generally valued across generations and thus offer the ideal starting point.
  • Employee orientation: Generation management does not replace individual leadership, but it does offer guidance.
  • Reading tip: What is generation management

Remote and distance guidance (from Lindner and Greff 2018)

  • Create awareness: According to the study, virtual leadership skills are becoming increasingly important. More than 90% of employees are permanently available digitally. In more than 55% of the cases, a virtual tour is mandatory.
  • Coach & motivate employees: The motivation of the employees in a virtual employment relationship and the coaching are regarded as one of the most important tasks of the manager.
  • Concrete goals: It is recommended to control virtual teams via goals. Regular status reports are useful as an instrument for target correction.
  • Clear distribution of roles: In a virtual team, the stable distribution of roles and working according to the pull principle could relieve a manager.
  • Employees trust: According to the participants, virtual leadership is based on trust. It can be assumed that the larger the work packages, the more trust is required.
  • Reading tip: What is e-leadership

Agile team leadership (from Lindner and Greff 2018)

  • Skills : There is a common understanding that a digital leader should have social, technological and visionary skills that can be trained.
  • Characteristics are : Promote leadership at eye level, trust in employees, experiments and inspiration as well as agility and participation.
  • Competencies are : the knowledge of new trends, agile methods, new work concepts, new technologies and new markets.
  • Reading tip: Agile leadership


A digital leader is characterized by dealing with current challenges in the course of digital change. Using the example of three selected challenges, I have given tips and hints for solving these in this article.
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The study by Lindner and Greff 2018 will appear in about 3 months!
Wiendick G. & Wiswede, G. (1990): Leadership in Transition: New Perspectives for Leadership Research and Leadership Practice. Stuttgart: Enke.
Enste DH, Eyerund T., Knelsen I. (2013): Changing leadership, Munich: Roman Herzog Institut e. V.

I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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