What makes a great digital leader?

That's the question we attempt to answer in our latest research, Effective Leadership in the Digital Age.

As a little entrée, I've compiled 15 quotes about leadership and company culture from some of the world's most famous digital leaders.


Hiroshi Mikitani, Rakuten foundervia LinkedIn:

Empowerment can’t mean letting everyone loose to do whatever they like. At Rakuten, one way we seek to guard against chaos is the rigorous use of KPI – key performance indicators.

We measure everything. We know how long it takes for projects to move through completion.

We know how many engineers it takes to execute a change in the system. We even know how long it takes for an employee in the lobby to reach the company meeting room on the 12th floor.

To keep this group of empowered employees on task, we set clear and specific goals.

rakuten logo

On agility and reinvention

Frank D'Souza, Cognizant CEO:

In today’s era of volatility, there is no other way but to re-invent. The only sustainable advantage you can have over others is agility, that’s it.

Because nothing else is sustainable, everything else you create, somebody else will replicate.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder:

If your customer base is aging with you, then eventually you are going to become obsolete or irrelevant. You need to be constantly figuring out who are your new customers and what are you doing to stay forever young. 

On short-termism

Tim Cook, Apple CEO:

Companies that get confused, that think their goal is revenue or stock price or something. You have to focus on the things that lead to those.

apple logo

On inspiration 

Pony Ma, Tencent founder, via ChinaDaily:

When we were a small company, we needed to stand on the shoulders of giants to grow up. If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

But copying others can't make you great. So the key is how to localize a great idea and create domestic innovation.

On customer focus

Jack Ma, Alibaba founder:

Customers should be number one, Employees number two, and then only your Shareholders come at number three.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder:

If you're competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.

On creativity

Elon Musk, PayPal and Tesla founder:

The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You're encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine.

Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren't that smart, who aren't that creative.

tesla logo

On detail

Jack Dorsey, Twitter and Square CEO:

As CEO, my main job is editor-in-chief.

On openness

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEOvia Tech Insider:

Anyone should be able to tell me anything, that's the culture we strive for.

On customer experience

Travis Kalanick, Uber founder:

Uber is efficiency with elegance on top. That's why I buy an iPhone instead of an average cell phone, why I go to a nice restaurant and pay a little bit more. It's for the experience.

uber logo 

On company culture 

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO:

Employees, especially young people, want more than a paycheck.

Larry Ellison, Oracle founder:

Taking care of your employees is extremely important and very, very visible.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO: 

At Facebook, we try to be a strengths-based organization, which means we try to make jobs fit around people rather than make people fit around jobs.

We focus on what people's natural strengths are and spend our management time trying to find ways for them to use those strengths every day.

Larry Ellison:

What is Oracle? It's people. We rely on our HR department to build this organization, to help find those people, to help grow those people.

Ben Davis

Published 9 December, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (3)

Daniel Jakubowicz

Daniel Jakubowicz, Head of Email and SMS at British GasEnterprise

Elon Musk nailed it!! You can't describe tight processes better than this!

over 2 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWD

Thanks for this Ben, very valuable. A particularly strong theme from brands like Uber, Amazon and Alibaba is the crucial importance of genuinely being customer centric and focusing on the customer experience. Many, many brands need to learn from this and start walking the walk.

An inspiring post, thanks again Ben

over 2 years ago

John Fox

John Fox, I help to improve ways that organisations interact with customers in a digital world. at Job seeker

And here's one from me: "Company culture is the elephant in the digital transformation room." Succinct, summing up in a single sentence the key to unlocking effective and lasting digital transformation and innovation. There's a graphic with this quote on my Twitter profile @x333xxx.

over 2 years ago

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