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Becoming a Digital Leader

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Industry 4.0 or 4th Industrial Revolution, means that many traditional operational systems within industries will be replaced with technological systems such as cyber security, “intelligent robots (co-robots, collaborative robots), and Internet of Things (IoT)” (Katli, 2019:1) to increase the efficiency and adaptability of organisations. Thus Katli (2019:1) refers to Industry 4.0 as the concept of “intelligent production”.

Firstly, this new technological age means that many new challenges may be faced by all sectors such as massive data sets, the interconnectivity of organisational departments and the continual increase in globalisation. Katli (2019:1) argues that employees, and in particular leaders, need to look at new methods of doing business in order to meet these challenges. Project leaders are the ones who can motivate teams to adopt new technological tools which enable organisations to create value for their diverse projects (Katli, 2019:1).

The field of leadership studies reveals there is no universal approach to leading, and traditional leadership theories co-exist with more modern and evolving perceptions. Through a qualitative content analysis of data from 46 interviews in Finland, four main leadership foci of digital business transformation were identified by Larjovuori et al, namely strategic vision and action, leading cultural change, enabling, and leading networks.

Bordi et al, (2018) opine that digital leadership has a crucial role which involves carrying and supporting an organisation through a digital business transition. They go on to comment that the UK’s literature on leadership in the context of digital business transformation is still in its infancy as not many empirical studies exist. However, organisational-change leadership is a widely researched topic, and existing literature provides many useful notions on digital business transformation. A more simplified definition is given by Kane et al, 2019, who state digital leaders must blend traditional and new skills to effectively guide their organisations into the future.

Katli (2019:2) thus argues that identifying skilled leaders is the primary source of concern for organisations in the 4th Industrial Revolution, and that these should be predicated on the organisational needs of the new technological era:

1. Traditional Skills: Although there have been many studies carried out which have suggested new leadership methodologies, it is important that current leadership styles, which are still relevant, are retained and combined with new technological approaches.

2. Digital Communications: The 4th Industrial Revolution means that technological machines will become an integral part of organisational and team communications. Subsequently, the use of the new technological tools will require management and oversight by leaders who will need to have the knowledge of digital communication tools, as well as proper judgement into their appropriate use.

3. Transformational - Visionary: In order to successfully adapt to new technological developments, leaders need to recognise knowledge gaps in organisational operations, as well as be encouraging agents of new digital goals.

4. Knowledge Management: The large amounts of new data sets collected by organisations means that new analytics tools and analytical skills will be required for digital leadership. Moreover, the rapid pace of information change in this new technological era means that digital leaders need to be able to adequately manage and share information with employees on a real-time basis.

5. Collaborative: A major priority for digital leaders will be to create an efficient and productive digital environment which fosters creative collaboration with team members, as well as with external stakeholders. Increased communication efficiency provides an environment for more enriching dialogue and innovative propositions for all parties involved.

6. Critical Thinking: In this new technological era, it is essential that digital leaders are able to think critically, that is, the ability to think clearly and rationally, and understand the logical connections between concepts, in order to deal appropriately with organisational problems and formulate the best possible solutions (Critical Thinking Skills, para.1).

The 4th Industrial Revolution has already started to affect almost all industries around the world. It is thus critical that leaders are equipped and skilled with the technological tools and advancements needed for successfully functioning digital environments.


1. Bordi, L., et al. (2018). Leadership in the digital business transformation. Proceedings of the 22nd International Academic Mindtrek Conference.

2. Critical Thinking Skills. (n.d.) Skills You Need [Online]. Available from:

3. Kane, G, C; Phillips, A.N.; Copulsky, J., and Andrus, G. (2019) How Digital Leadership Is(n’t) Different. MIT Sloan Management Review; Cambridge. Volume 60, Issue 3: 34-39.

4. Katli, Ö. Ö. (2019). Digital Leadership: Game Changers of New Age. PM World Journal. 8:5.

5. Larjovuori, R.L., Bordi, L. and Heikkilä, K. (2018) Leadership in the digital business transformation In Proceedings of the 22nd International Academic Mindtrek Conference 2018. 212-221. New York: ISBN 978-1-4503-6589-5.

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