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Digital Leadership: Leading beyond Zoom, Miro and digital wine tastings

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Deutsche Telekom has adapted its strategy and aligned it with a new vision for the future: Leading Digital Telco!

To become the Leading Digital Telco, we at Deutsche Telekom not only need a forward-looking digital portfolio for our customers but we also need to live digitalization internally - in our mindset, in processes and in the way we work together.

At the Center Strategic Projects, we are determined to transform Deutsche Telekom together with our clients. Therefore, our projects focus on strategically relevant topics such as digital leadership – a topic that is particularly driven by our practice “Organization & HR”. 

For this article we used our broad network of well-recognized experts to put digital leadership in the spotlight, since it plays an important role in the transformation of Deutsche Telekom.

In particular, we talked to:

And here is what we have learned: 

For Reza Moussavian digital leadership means on the one hand acting as a leader for digital business and putting the customer in focus of everything. On the other hand, it means being a leader in a hybrid working world, focusing on creating high-performing teams over geographical distance and time.

Daniel Vonier especially emphasizes the second part: “The way we work is rapidly becoming more and more digital, therefore we need people who are both willing and capable to navigate successfully and help individuals and teams to thrive in this new environment. Important: this goes way beyond the pure application of digital tools. It impacts the core of how we personally deal with this challenging environment, at work and in private.”

Marcus Minzlaff hits the same notch by clearly stating that digital leadership means leading in a strongly connected and more volatile world and not just leading with the help of digital tools.

And Miriam Meckel goes even further: “First and foremost, it means leading people by enabling them to deliver their peak performance and supporting them in their personal growth. That also means a bad leader will never turn into a great leader just by going digital! Second, digital leadership includes two angles: one comprises the digital competencies you need to flexibly, efficiently and effectively make use of today’s tools for work and collaboration. The other is the ability to deal with uncertainty, handle volatility and develop a mindset of permanent change.”

It is clear for Marcus Minzlaff that the ability to build networks and resilient human relationships is one of the most important features of digital leadership. He says that solutions must increasingly be found in the team and a leader must facilitate that. Furthermore, distributed leadership will become a crucial element of digital leadership.

Miriam Meckel is even bringing a new leadership frame to the table: “To lead the most effective and enriching human-machine interaction in such a setting, we need "meta leadership". It does not only include the regular strategic evaluation and decision-making of a management role. Instead, leaders of today need even more reflection skills on the meta level to lead their teams through permanent transformation. They need the curiosity and self-awareness to assess their own behavior, skills, and contributions as well as those of their employees. In strategy and practice meta leadership unlocks the potential to understand where things can go wrong, what is needed to enable successful transformation and where mindsets and behavior patterns and decision-making need to be systematically changed to stay ahead of the curve. Data and tech skills are necessary to provide the empirical foundation for this kind of meta leadership.”

Daniel Vonier is sure that digital leadership needs to be able to deal with ambiguity, remain adaptive to new opportunities and "black swans" as well as curate high-performing teams on the interface of human and machine.

A different approach is chosen by Reza Moussavian by explaining what kind of leadership is not needed from his point of view: narcissist (mindset: others are here to worship me), machiavellists (the goal justifies all means) and psychopaths (other people are objects). A lot of leaders are members of this ‘dark triad’ and hence are highly visionary, super eloquent, they literally hypnotize the masses and can be highly charming. The dark side is about manipulation, mood excess, vanity and more which can ultimately kill the company culture and business long term.

For Daniel Vonier it’s clear: loving it to swim in a sea of hypergrowth, rapid speed of change and highly demanding customer needs – driven by curiosity and a strong suspension of the own judgement.

Miriam Meckel’s view is the following: being able to change perspectives flexibly to reflect one’s own role in the process of managing transformation and adapt one’s patterns of thinking and behaving according to critical analysis. The VUCA world is not only volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It is also varied, unique, captivating, and adaptable and therefore a wonderful opportunity for dedicated leaders who want to thrive in collaboration with their teams and take their organization to the next level.

Marcus Minzlaff adds the element of emotional intelligence in order to establish resilient human relationships: “It needs more than our head, it also needs our heart and our hands – this means, using not only our rational minds, but our emotional and somatic intelligences, leading from our full selves.” Besides, successful leaders in a digital company think holistically and take over responsibility for the effects of their organizations on the larger system of society and planet.

Reza Moussavian sums it up quite well: “It sounds easy but it’s far away from being – be honest to yourself, discover your real self. Reflect and change or develop it.”

Our key takeaways:

  • Leadership remains an important and at the same time challenging role – no matter in which context
  • A digital and software-oriented environment sets different requirements on leadership
  • Collaboration, ability to reflect and adapt as well as a systemic approach are crucial success factors

After seeing diverse understandings of digital leadership, evaluations which kind of leadership is needed in a digital company and thoughts regarding success factors in a digital company, we are now curious about your opinion: what do you think about the experts' theses on (successful) digital leadership? Do we even need a distinction between digital and non-digital leadership? What will be the developments in leadership in the future?

Happy to exchange with you and thankful for the above-mentioned expert insights and for many more to come!