What is a digital leader anyway?

What is a digital leader anyway? Is there something about digital leadership that is different, or is a good leader good in any field? What does digital leadership really mean? All good questions – and ones we tried to answer in our Digital Leaders North West meeting last week. Liz Copeland of Knowledge Hub tells us more…

We began our session as always with three willing speakers ready to tell us about what they see as inspirational digital leadership.

Liz Hardwick of DigiEnable first told us about an amazing organisation called TechSoup, which has inspired her on many occasions in her digital career. TechSoup were originally known for offering discounted computer software for charities, but in fact they do a whole range of development activities focused on providing technology for global good and not for profit. Liz has been particularly impressed by the way TechSoup use digital techniques for storytelling and this has encouraged her to do more video storytelling herself.

Liz felt that a genuine digital leader should be someone shares knowledge, is a thought leader and is different and unique. They are the first to engage with technology, but also willing to give something back and are using digital tools for social good.

We heard next from John Rudkin, a regular attendee at Digital Leaders North West and member of our steering group. John told us that he believed we could all be digital leaders – he said if we look around, there are good digital leaders everywhere, but often we don’t notice who they are or what they’re doing, because they are not in the limelight. They are simply getting on and working behind the scenes to further the digital cause.

John challenged the idea of specific digital leadership and whether it is really different from leadership as a whole. At the end of the day, he believes a key element of any kind of leadership is trust. If you trust what someone is doing, you’re willing to follow them. John also said he thought qualities such as technology awareness, listening, understanding, sharing, being a willing co-creator, decisiveness, taking a balanced view and being mindful, but accepting of risk were all particularly important within digital leadership.

Finally, Jon Howard of the BBC took the floor and shared his views on digital leadership. He drew on his own personal experiences of the Kurzweil K1 digital keyboard when he was younger. This signified the invention and development of music synthesis. He then jumped forward to a new invention now being trialled on our roads – driverless cars. The point of both of these examples was to show that digital leadership requires inversion thinking and looking at things in a new way. These strides forward in digital progress couldn’t happen without that.

Jon believes that the important thing for businesses is to understand how digital technology will impact on them and on people’s lives. Progress is accelerating and if we don’t take responsibility, we’ll get left behind. It’s not always the leader of a company who is the digital leader – it’s often the people at the coalface who are the influencers.

Our three speakers certainly provided a lot of food for thought and there was no shortage of views within the room as to what makes a good digital leader. Our list of qualities gradually became longer throughout the discussion:

  • Trustworthy
  • Ability to innovate
  • Influential
  • Visionary
  • An enabler
  • A champion
  • Collaborative
  • Willing to share
  • Visible
  • Values-led
  • Adaptable
  • Creative with good ideas
  • Encouraging
  • Committed
  • Courageous – a risk-taker
  • Someone who sees potential and opportunity
  • Passionate
  • Inspirational
  • Has belief in what they’re doing
  • Open
  • Future-thinking
  • Has a strategic mind

During the meeting views were sought from Twitter on what makes a good digital leader too… responses included:

  • A good digital leader builds & connects the brand (and what/why it exists) to the digital tactics/channels used
  • Mentor, teacher, hustler
  • Digital leaders have a vertical knowledge of digital industry but the 'make up' of a leader should be the same
  • Trustworthy
  • Dynamic
  • Digitally literate


The difficulty in the discussion lay in picking out those ingredients that separate digital leadership from general leadership. Are there any qualities that stand out as specific to being a digital leader? For me what emerged is that a good leader is a good leader in any area. They don’t take the traditional command and control approach, but instead act as an enabler, are open, inclusive and collaborative, as well we being able to make tough decisions, be visionary and take people with them. However, digital leadership does perhaps demand some additional qualities, such as being innovative and creative and having an awareness of what technology can help to achieve and the digital vision that goes with that.

We also all felt that leadership in any form must be values-led. Leadership is not just about lining your own pocket, but also about giving something back to others. There should be a spirit of generosity that takes us above and beyond just what we have to do as part of the day job to a place where we’re able to empower others through our digital leadership.

What are your thoughts on digital leadership? We’re always keen to hear people’s views, so please do come and share them in the Digital Leaders North West group. You’ll also find details there of future meetings – the next one is on Wednesday 20 April and all are welcome.

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Former Member 6 Years Ago
Great summary report. I promised people who attended the salon a follow up to my contribution: Here it is: http://www.johnar.net/#!It-is-all-a-matter-of-TRUST/cf15/56f3d21b0cf26be41bd8cd36 (please copy and paste into browser)