- Most tech decision-makers report that their organization has a single leader overseeing both digital business strategy and digital transformation.
- Almost all consider digital leadership to be important for achieving both business goals and digital transformation goals.
- Digital leadership training programs are uncommon but successful when they are implemented; many report that their organization is planning to introduce such programs in the future.
- Strong digital leadership depends more on business than technical competencies.
- Most decision-makers associate clear vision and strategic thinking with strong digital leadership.
- Digital leadership is considered important for the long-term success of the organization.
Leaders must always steer their organization through challenging periods and help to future-proof the business, but after the COVID-19 pandemic drove more reliance on digital services, Gartner Peer Insights wanted to explore whether new skills are required for digital leadership.
We polled tech decision-makers about the state of digital leadership, and executives can use this report to benchmark against their peers. (Customizable, real-time results remain available to Gartner Peer Insights community members even after polls close). These data were collected Oct 14, 2021 - Mar 3, 2022, and are based on responses from 338 tech decision-makers.
Digital business strategy and transformation often have a single leader
Many tech decision-makers (44%) report that their organization has a leader who oversees both digital business strategy and digital transformation. Over a quarter (27%) say their organization has a distinct leader for each.
Most decision-makers (97%) consider strong digital leadership to be important to achieving their business goals, with over a quarter (27%) considering it to be critical.
At the same time, 99% consider strong digital leadership an important factor in successful digital transformation, with 30% believing it to be critical.
"Each emerging organization should have a strong digital leadership department which should be led by a capable leader," a VP from a large software industry organization said in a related discussion on the Gartner Peer Insights platform. "Digital leadership is regular leadership combined with innovation in strategic areas, which requires both business knowledge to recognize and understand the problem and technical knowledge to solve the problem," added a director from a large enterprise in the retail industry.
Digital leadership training and skills are lacking
Only 24% of tech decision-makers report that their organization has a digital leadership training program, but among those that do, all report some level of success from such development opportunities. Nearly half of those at organizations without such programs say training initiatives are planned.
Numerous tech executives contributing to the related discussions on the Gartner Peer Insights platform noted the challenges of finding strong digital leadership skills.
"The right balance of business and technology is difficult to find," said a director at a large enterprise in the financial industry. "We have moved through two different leaders in 3 years. Both had strong business knowledge but very weak technology skills. They believed the salesman selling them solutions – which failed. No. 3 is good in both areas and has seen some early success. Time will tell if it works better this time."
"A good [digital] leader will not implement technology change for its own sake, but rather implement change with a constant eye on quantifiable results," commented a C-Suite decision-maker from a large enterprise in the finance sector. "Their ability to influence and communicate with stakeholders is critical."
Digital leaders need a range of soft skills
- Half of decision-makers believe that business understanding is more important than technological understanding for digital leadership, compared to only 6% who believe that technological understanding is more important.
- The top three qualities most decision-makers associate with strong digital leaders are clear vision (75%), innovation (70%) and open-mindedness (43%).
- The top three skills most decision-makers associate with strong digital leaders are strategic thinking (70%), effective communication (61%) and business knowledge (43%).
Digital leaders need to be great communicators and educators," one VP in the software sector told peers in the online discussion. "Having a clear vision and not being afraid to question the status quo [are] the most important characteristics required" for digital leadership," said one C-suite executive.
Almost all decision-makers (99%) believe digital leadership will be important to the long-term success of their organization, with almost a quarter (24%) considering it to be critical. In the words of one executive: "Few businesses remain that are unaffected by digital transformation. Ignore it at your peril."