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Are you a true digital leader – or do you just think so? This is what digital leadership means in practice

It is said that business directors in the 2020s need to be digital leaders. However, what happens too often is that ambitious talk about harnessing digitalisation ends up flat. Anne Kinnunen has accumulated almost three decades’ worth of practical knowledge about how Finnish companies understand leadership and digitalisation. Here, she will share her findings.

In the spring of 2020, we at Sofigate conducted a study about the state of the digital revolution in Finnish companies and wished to interview their top management. We were shocked when several times we got the reply: Shouldn’t you rather interview our CIO about these digital issues?

CIOs, of course, are experts in technology management. However, if the top management are not sitting in the driver’s seat and seeing digitalisation as an essential part of their job as well, the situation is alarming. For business leaders, it is no longer enough to have great personnel management skills or vast industry expertise. A leader must also be a leader in the digitalisation of his or her work community.

Now is the time to understand what true digital leadership means in practice. In my experience, here are the three core issues:

1. The leader must be able to make the most of technology

A leader of the 2020s needs to understand what can be accomplished in business through technology. And it is not enough to be able to introduce new technologies, but to also lead the efficient use of technology from the operational and budgetary points of view.

The big picture is important. Above all, the leader must understand what needs to be accomplished. Keep the vision in mind and challenge professionals to come up with solutions to make the vision come true.

How then can you learn all this? Obviously, studying is compulsory. Be interested in how technology is evolving and what the latest trends are in your own industry – and other industries, too. Read articles, publications and even LinkedIn content. Attend webinars and live seminars that will hopefully start again soon. Chat with colleagues, your network, and journalists. Apply what you hear to the everyday life of your own business.

My key tip for you is this: Listen carefully, especially in your own organisation, to people’s ideas and needs. What tip would you give me and others? How do you accumulate your skills?

2. The leader should develop competence throughout the organisation

The role of the leader is to lead the company and the people in the organisation to become experts in digitalisation. This means acquiring the right kind of skills and training your own staff for the digital tasks of the future: planning, management, and utilisation. Often, in connection with the development of competence, it is also necessary to renew operating models and to take a closer look at processes.

As the people develop, the leader must remember to lead change patiently. Competence does not transfer into an organisation from some educational organisation but must rise from everyday actions and through the development of people’s competence. Interest and enthusiasm are usually at the core.

Don’t forget the development of culture and the solid support the organisation needs for constant change.

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3. The leader must utilise networks

The fact is that not all know-how can be concentrated in one’s own company. Few companies have enough money and resources for that. So, take advantage of networks instead of concentrating on skill gaps in your own business. Seek help from outside, for example, for less frequently needed or strategically less central skills.

I think one of the key qualities of a leader is the ability to combine the best skills from different sources, whether they are in-house or from partners. Create continuously evolving ecosystems that produce exactly the expertise your business needs at any given time.

It is not foolish to buy know-how where it is available. If, for example, you renew your ERP system once every 5 or 10 years, there is no way you can maintain the exact knowledge related to acquiring one yourself. And maintaining this type of expertise is usually not very sensible. So why not purchase it from a market where someone is constantly doing it as their primary job?


Anne Kinnunen is Sofigate’s Customer Executive. She helps SMEs to renew their business and acts as a customer interface to support and assist SME business management in choosing the right development measures to boost their business. Anne has shared expertise and insight with dozens of business executives and management teams in utilising digitalisation and has conducted dozens of digitalisation and IT surveys for Sofigate’s clients. She also leads Sofigate’s team focusing on corporate business change. Anne wants to help clients create future success stories by making the right choices from their company perspectives and that is why she is always open to different opportunities for discussion and exchanging views.