Digital leadership – kill or cure?

Digital leadership – kill or cure?

Is there such a thing as digital leadership? This article for the Harvard Business Review makes the case for it and this online course says it will teach you the requisite skills. But is there anything qualitatively different to being a leader and to being a digital leader?

This question has been on my mind recently: firstly because I was recently invited by Mike Chitty and James Freed to speak on this topic at their ‘kill digital’ session at eHealth Week in which they put the notion of digital leadership under the spotlight and gave it a good kicking about; secondly because I’m co-delivering an mHabitat learning set for a group of leaders who are responsible for transforming care through digital technologies in eight of the new models of care vanguards.

What are the qualities required of NHS and social care leaders who are transforming services enabled by digital? Here is what our learning set participants identified:

  • Enthusiasm– the ability to enthuse and engage others
  • Tenacity – keeping on when others might give up and remaining focused on the task
  • Curiosity – being open minded and keen to find novel ways to improve services
  • Reflective – learning from mistakes and finding new ways to move forward
  • Credible – the ability to gather information, to be well informed and to make the case
  • Collaborative – being willing to collaborate to get things done
  • Having courage – trying new things and take calculated risks
  • Pragmatic – starting small and adapting to new circumstances.

None of the above qualities are specific to digital technologies but all relate to the ability to work with emergence and uncertainty – and digital technologies in health and care is certainly an emergent field, with many unknowns. Digital technologies afford opportunities for organisations to work very differently (for example, developing a networked culture over a hierarchical one) and to transform how they deliver care (for example, blending on and offline). Social* or networked leadership is one whereby the affordances of online social networks can be leveraged to connect, learn and collaborate without geographical or temporal limits.

But none of these things are determined by digital – rather they are enabled by digital. And for me that is the important distinction. Digital is just an enabler. And leaders should be open to and take time to understand and engage with these affordances.

By the way I ran a (lighthearted) Twitter poll on digital leadership (just because I’d never run a poll before) and this is how people voted

What do you think? digital leadership – kill or cure?

*Here’s a nice book on social leadership from Julian Stodd and one of his doodles on social leadership is the picture for this post.

Ps. as part of the digital leaders learning set, our participants will be honing their digitally enabled social skills by blogging on the topic. We hope to put some of them up here in due course.

1 Comment

  1. Really interesting Victoria, thanks! I wonder what makes a digital leader credible to others, there’s so many soft skills behind the ability to ‘make the case’ this can’t be broadcast only, part of making the case will be listening and understanding others and making your case in response to their needs/issues etc


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