What it means to be a digital leader

By Jacqui Taylor (Chief Executive, Lifelink - Your Life | Your Space) on 21st Sep 2016

Was there really life before Google, smartphones and all the other technology that now dominates our working lives? I can vaguely remember the fax machine sitting in the corner, but other than that it’s all a bit of a blur.

As senior charity leaders in this brave new digital world, we need to ask ourselves what our interaction with technology means for the third sector. How can we lead our charities more effectively and embrace digital technology to improve efficiency, performance and enhance the services we provide for the many people we support?

Some might say leadership is leadership: it’s all about vision, mission and values. Well, yes, it is; but digital now needs to be seamlessly woven into that vision, mission and values.

The most successful organisations will be those that embrace digital

Digital leadership is not just about governance and process. It’s about setting the standard, leading by example, taking ownership, accepting responsibility for getting results in an uncertain, risky and ever-changing landscape.

It requires professional commitment and personal courage. We don’t have the luxury of a decade or two to develop digital leaders. We need them now. The most successful organisations will be those that embrace digital.

Digital is disrupting industries that have been operating in the same way for years, and the wind of change is blowing through our sector too.

As one fellow One Digital participant said:

“Having previously seen digital as something that one or more team members with a particular digital skillset would lead on, I now see the extent to which digital is everyone's business and an integral part of my organisation's work.”

As leaders, we’ve found ourselves in a world of digital natives and digital immigrants. Technology is second nature to digital natives. It just works. That’s how it is at home, and that’s how they expect it should be at work.

We can often be fooled into thinking it’s an age divide. It isn’t.

It’s more about culture. Ask yourself: do you print documents to edit them? Call people into your office to show them a website when you could email them a link?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then you may be a digital immigrant. The big question for senior leaders and boards in the third sector is how do we become digital natives?

Whether we are ready or not, a step-change is needed to deliver services in a digital world. If we don’t we are in we are in real danger of being left behind. Worse still, someone else may come in and disrupt the sector before we get the chance to change.

So let’s be bold leaders. Don’t be afraid to fail. Those that embrace digital have an exciting journey ahead.

And for those of you wondering what a fax machine is: Google it!

Sign-up for the 3rdsectordigicamp and join like-minded people for a day to discuss how to bring about digital change.

Jacqui Taylor is CEO of Lifelink.