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May 11, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

Think of the explorers in the Wild West, who faced a new frontier. They had no idea what to expect, faced unknown obstacles, and had limited supplies.

What did they have? They had gumption. They had drive. They had ambition and grit. They pushed forward, making mistakes, asking questions, and doing the best they could to survive in a world new to them.

Here we are again on a new frontier, only this time we're not in covered wagons. We're on the edge of the digital landscape.

In this age of digital transformation, solid digital leadership will pave the way for innovation and change. What's a digital leader? One who leads in the digital world. 

As more businesses, non-profits, organizations, and governmental institutions transform their practices to function digitally, they need people who can manage and inspire at the digital level.

This change is less about the art of leadership and how to lead--it's about finding people who can adapt to change and find solutions to problems quickly.

What does a digital leader look like? Well, they're not working alone, at the top. They're working with their peers--other digital leaders in their fields--to solve problems and make improvements. It's about teamwork and an understanding of "digital" as a way of thinking--and as a vehicle for change.

They're working to manage the transformation from an analog world to a digital one.

Let's take a closer look at four skills that will prepare you to be a digital leader in today's world. 

1. Competence

Digital leaders need competence--and confidence--in the digital landscape. They understand how social media works and its potential for fantastic or disastrous results. They know how to behave professionally online.

Digital leaders can identify online bullying at the highest levels and develop solutions so that digital bystanders are forced to take a stand against it. 

Digital leaders also understand what copyright is, how it works, and their responsibility to uphold--and enforce--digital copyright laws.

The competence that digital leaders exude comes not just from their work for a company or organization, but from themselves. They understand their responsibilities and the ramifications that could potentially follow if they don't hold themselves to the highest standard.

Not only do they need to be competent themselves, they need to encourage their peers to develop their competence in the digital world, too. That takes top-notch knowledge and no small amount of patience.

2. Creativity

Digital leaders have a creative vision for their teams. They can approach problems in non-traditional ways that allow for innovation and they're not afraid to make mistakes. 

They're not afraid to experiment with an idea they saw on Twitter, or a strategy that another organization used. They're not afraid to come up with something new. 

Digital leaders take calculated risks with their thinking.

Remember: their purpose is to bridge the gap between the analog world and this new frontier.

3. Collaboration

Collaboration is key. A digital leader facilitates the interdisciplinary conversations and work that needs to happen to make an organization thrive.

When the IT department needs to work with digital marketing and sales teams, in addition to the content writer and photographer, an excellent digital leader ensures that stakeholders aren't working in silos and can communicate efficiently with each other to get a job done.

An influential digital leader will help bridge gaps among departments and other groups of people by making the flow of information and the sharing of knowledge easy and enjoyable.

4. Curiosity

It's a plus (even if you're a cat) in the digital world. Use it. Challenge old systems. Challenge new systems. Ask questions. Digital leaders need to be curious about everything--and examine problems from all angles and perspectives. 

A good digital leader will be curious about a customer or user's experience just as much as the experience from the design and implementation stage.

Digital leaders are curious about everything, ask questions, and are rarely satisfied with just one answer. 

Curiosity is the seat of innovation.

Ready to be a digital leader? You can do it. Arm yourself with a healthy dose of competence, creativity, collaboration, and curiosity--and content knowledge--and you're good to go.


Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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