CHICAGO — One topic could be heard during all of the workshops presented on day one of CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group's Digital Workplace Experience conference: digital leadership is tougher than ever before. 

Why? One of the biggest reasons is the five different generations who comprise current workforces: baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, millennials and Gen Z. Each generation has different communication preferences, from phone, to email, text, message app and more. They have different tolerance levels to adapt to change. 

With all the variances between generations, leaders have to evolve their styles to motivate a very diverse workforce.

Top 8 Skills of Today's Digital Leaders

Kevin Olp of Digital Workplace Group (DWG) explained how digital leaders meet this expectation. He leveraged DWG’s digital leadership skills assessment to evaluate the top 8 skills.

1. Digital Literacy

As defined by Cornell University, digital literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share and create content using information technologies and the internet. Literacy is not only technical, it requires cognitive, critical, creative and social skills. It is safe to say that you are never done learning when it comes to digital technology. 

Luckily the following skills foster digital literacy.

2. Digital Vision

When building a digital strategy, sell the idea of the long-term benefits the new technologies will bring. Olp reminded us of the time not so long ago when Jeff Bezos stated that drones will soon deliver your goods. This was long before the technology was displayed in testing. 

His strategy was to plant the story, so the most technically-averse people had time to get used to the idea of drone delivery. Eventually the concept didn't seem so absurd. At the same time, the most motivated technology fans were excited and waiting to become an early adopter.

3. Advocacy

As a leader you set the tone for the rest of the organization. Advocacy is all about energizing people about the digital vision. A transformation can only flourish in an environment fostered for digital growth. 

Olp recommended reverse mentoring, where leaders invite a savvy non-manager to mentor them on how they use digital in their daily lives and work practices. Investing time in your own literacy encourages others to pursue similar knowledge.

4. Presence

Presence is a form of advocacy that translates to "walking the walk." Leaders can have a clear digital vision and strongly advocate for it, but if they aren’t visibly practicing it where the workforce can see, no one will buy what you’re selling. 

The added bonus to actively participating in digital technology is — you guessed it — improvements to your digital literacy. An easy approach Olp suggested was making a habit of posting to internal feeds. 

5. Communication

Your communication style backs up your presence. Consider your messaging practices and how they may or may not portray your digital vision. 

Learning Opportunities

Olp shared a video of Ford Motors CIO, Marcy Klevorn’s communications with the company’s 200,000 employees. She regularly records short videos called "if you have a minute" on her phone while in casual settings. Her authentic messages contain updates on new products, company achievements, partner meetings and other events.

With these videos, Klevorn gives employees a glimpse into executive proceedings in an informal and personal way, while at the same time recognizing team members and advocating engagement in the form of #BattleOfTheHashtags contests. 

6. Adaptability

Developing openness to explore new technologies and taking a flexible approach to how you conceive the digital workplace will strengthen your adaptability muscle. 

While the spirit of curiosity doesn’t come naturally to everyone, the most challenging aspect of adaptability for leaders is developing a higher risk tolerance. This can feel counter-intuitive to common business standards, but this tolerance allows innovation to thrive and ultimately drives the business forward.

7. Self-Awareness

Olp reminded us that, “in this era, leadership requires a high degree of self awareness.” 

The level of connectivity today is unprecedented — for leaders and for the broader workforce. The boundaries between inside and outside the office are now blurred. Leaders should reflect on their approach and how it may affect others. This should become a natural and ongoing practice. 

Olp referenced his own experience when DWG’s leader Paul Miller openly explained to DWG staff that he chose to catch up on emails over weekends, but that no one should feel obligated to respond on the weekend. He was aware of how his practices, as CEO, could affect the remote team if he didn’t address expectations early.

8. Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness is the lens through which you view your digital vision. It encompasses the values needed for success. During times of communication and participation leaders should remember sensitivity in the digital workplace, as well as retain an awareness of cultural differences.