Enterprises around the globe are accelerating their digital transformation in order to meet the needs of a fast-changing business environment. This requires a significant investment in change management, as well as big shifts in business processes. This will naturally require significant relearning or even unlearning, in order to optimize the impact of digital transformation.

Who should be at the helm of a digital transformation initiative then? According to CIO magazine, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is not always the leader in charge. In most cases, several officers play vital roles in implementing digital transformation plans. Technology, data, and innovation chiefs, for example, have a say on how to proceed with digitalization campaigns.

Regardless of who will ultimately be responsible, what is important is that the officers who manage the digitalization shift in an organization possess the right skills and qualities for the job. They have to oversee employee training, which is a job-specific task that requires more than just pedagogical skills. They also have to evaluate and tweak training and onboarding plans. Additionally, they have to plan and scrutinize asset acquisitions and manage organizational changes.

The qualities necessary to handle all of these tasks are not as straightforward as many would expect. Discussed briefly below are five of the most important attributes that propel digital transformation leadership success.

The ability to simplify complexities

Digital technology can be difficult to comprehend for those who are new to it. Many are intimidated by the perceived complexities and technical jargon. Because of this, an effective digital change leader should know how to translate or enable the translation of complicated terminologies and concepts into easily understandable information.

Digital transformation officers do not have to personally administer employee training and the implementation of specific plans. However, they have to examine the plans, templates, procedures, and activity details to ensure effectiveness and viability. It is their job to ensure that employees across the board will not have difficulties comprehending their manuals, learning modules, and training sessions.

It is also crucial to reduce enterprise IT complexity. As a Digital Pulse article by PwC Director Andrew Sewell and PwC Senior Manager Chanchal Puthussery points out: “Many businesses find themselves burdened by overly complex IT systems.” The gains of IT simplification easily outweigh the costs of doing it. “A holistic view of complexity — and an understanding of how it creates unwanted business outcomes — is needed to scale and implement successful IT simplification,” the authors add.

Anyone who leads a digital transformation initiative needs to acknowledge the value of simplicity, especially with regard to people, the users of technology. At the same time, it is important to understand that simplification is not a goal, but a component of the process designed to reap the benefits of using digital technology.

Change management savvy

Charles Galunic, INSEAD Professor of Organisational Behavior, hits the nail right on the head with his piece on overcoming resistance to digital change. “Going digital requires a lot of change management, and perhaps more time and energy is spent here than on anything else,” Galunic writes.

Digital transformation entails an overwhelming amount of change not only in the organizational ecosystem and equipment but also in the mindset of everyone working in the company. To be an effective digitalization manager, it is essential to have a profound comprehension and anticipation of the consequent changes.

Many will be interested to try new things that supposedly deliver tangible benefits. However, there are also many who resist change. ”The pace and extent of change can unsettle staff and manifest itself in the form of resistance, and according to our interviews with digitising companies, that resistance can be especially strong among middle managers,” Galunic notes.

That’s right, ranking officials in an organization themselves can become obstacles to digital transformation. A CIO or technology chief has to offer convincing arguments and proofs of benefits to gain the support of everyone in the organization.

Authority alone does not guarantee a successful digital transformation. Technology investments are essential, but the cooperation of the users of the new technologies is equally important. It is not only the technology that has to change; workplace culture should follow suit. Someone who cannot reconcile these necessities is bound to fail in successfully implementing digital transformation plans.

Excellent communication and interpersonal skills

A key quality every business leader should possess is also a vital attribute digital transformation leaders should have. To enable effective change management and convey compelling arguments in favor of digitalization, digital change leaders must be good communicators.

A Smarter with Gartner piece highlights the role of communication in digital business transformation. “Corporate communications leaders are well-positioned to build employee digital dexterity and create value for the organization,” the article writes.

Digital dexterity refers to the ability of people in an organization to use and apply existing and new technologies to achieve better business results. Unfortunately, this attribute is not that common among employees. People need motivation, encouragement, and reliable positive information to cultivate digital dexterity.

The right perspectives

How leaders view things can help or hinder the achievement of their goals. Specifically, the objective of digital transformation is not the digitalization of tools and systems in an organization. The end goal is not the computerization of systems and digitalization of files, but the improvement of operations through digital solutions.

As Sujeet Chand of IndustryWeek asserts, digital transformation is about the outcomes. The adoption of digital tools is only part of the process. These can be changed and should be changed if they prove to be ineffective or if they fall short of expectations.

Similarly, digital transformation leaders should be convinced themselves of the effectiveness of the new system and tools their organization plans to put in place. The enthusiasm of leaders influences the cooperation of their followers. It is not enough that they understand how the technologies work. They need to be convinced that there are benefits in making the switch.

Moreover, it is important to distinguish creativity and proper innovation. These terms are not interchangeable. Creativity can help bring about innovation, but not all creative approaches become innovative solutions. In choosing digital solutions to use, digital leaders should be able to identify which ones represent real innovation and which ones only offer something novel and out-of-the-box but not exactly practical and implementable.

Strong adversity quotient

Adversity quotient (AQ) is a measure of the ability to rise back up after a fall. A higher AQ indicates that someone is a risk-taker, another important attribute of change managers. Digital transformation leaders must have high AQs for them not to be easily discouraged by the possible failures they may encounter.

“High AQ lends itself to better employee retention that is critical for digital leadership because the nature of digital transformation often disrupts the way people work by breaking rules and overturning old assumptions,” writes Jordan Bryan, Content Marketing Manager at Gartner.

Digital transformation leaders should have a mindset of resilience and continuity. It rarely happens that things go the way they are planned. AQ can be improved by exploring challenges and unexpected situations while giving people the tools they can use to overcome obstacles.

In summary

A knack for simplicity, change management adeptness, effective communication, a mindset of resiliency, and having the appropriate perspectives sum up the essential qualities that make a CIO, CTO, or other digital transformation leaders successful. These are not only useful in guiding or training employees towards digitalization; they are also useful qualities in helping businesses succeed and prosper.