Best Practice

Effective Leadership in the Digital Age

By Neil Perkin,

Skills and capabilities of successful digital transformation leaders


With the increasing impact of disruptive technologies, rapidly changing competitive environments, and a growing maturity and integration of digital into 'business as usual', organizational leadership itself needs to adapt to a brave new business world.

Are we seeing the emergence of a new type of leader that brings together a powerful combination of skills to adeptly navigate the rapidly evolving and shifting technological landscape?

The Effective Leadership in the Digital Age research set out to answer one key question: what does it mean to be a 'digital leader' in the context of digital transformation? Written by experienced blogger, writer and consultant Neil Perkin, the report aims to distill some of the key shifts in leadership qualities, attributes and techniques, providing a multidimensional framework for effective digital leadership.

Key findings

  • While the large majority of survey respondents believed that it was 'very important' for leaders to be technology literate in the modern business environment, far fewer believed that the level of literacy among their own leadership was strong.
  • Leaders now need to draw from a wider set of leadership styles, and open up to increasingly take on the role of collaborator or co-creator.
  • The 'full stack' digital leaders are emerging, who can effectively draw value from large amounts of data, yet combine this with creative thinking and inspiring visions.
  • As more businesses mature in digital capability, the ownership of digital at board level and in the organization is shifting. Not only are a wider set of board members more actively involved and engaged than ever in digital, but new roles are actively re-shaping organizations at the highest level.
  • Several key characteristics, focused on operational orientation, leadership qualities and ways of working, are critical for effective digital leaders. These include being ruthlessly customer-centric, visionary, adaptive and agile, commercial, data-driven, open, curious and innovative.


Our methodology involved three main phases:

  • Phase 1: A series of in-depth interviews (15 interviews in total) with a range of C-suite and senior management, including senior digital and non-digital marketers and ecommerce leads across different sectors and markets. This provided insight into key themes, challenges and opportunities in modern leadership.
  • Phase 2: Desk research to identify relevant issues, examples and models.
  • Phase 3: An online survey (439 respondents) of relevant senior staff across a range of organizations and sectors designed to better quantify feedback.

Digital Transformation

This research is part of a series of reports Econsultancy is producing on the topic of digital transformation

Digital is changing faster and more profoundly than anyone could have predicted. Doing what you've always done is no longer an option.

The specialist digital transformation practice within Econsultancy  helps companies accelerate their journeys to digital excellence. We address the four vectors of change:

  • Your strategy - where should you be going with digital?
  • Your people - what teams, talent and skills do you need to get there?
  • Your processes - how should you change the way you work?
  • Your technologies - what platforms, software and data strategy will serve you best?

Talk to us about an initial, no-cost consultation. We’ll discuss your toughest challenges, outline our methodology and come back with a proposal.

Contact our Digital Transformation Team on or call

  • EMEA: +44 (0)20 7269 1450
  • Americas: +1 212 971 0630
  • APAC: +65 6653 1911

Contributing Authors


Neil Perkin

More reports from Neil Perkin

Neil Perkin is a renowned blogger, writer and the founder of Only Dead Fish, a digital and media consultancy that specialises in applying strategic understanding of social and emerging media technologies to help businesses innovate and optimise their effectiveness within the new, networked communications environment.

Neil is a consultant with Econsultancy, a regular keynote speaker across Europe on content strategy, emerging media, digital marketing innovation and social technologies, and writes regularly for BrandRepublic, FutureLab, Marketing Week and The Marketing Society among others. He has been named by BIMA as one of the most influential people in the UK digital sector for two years in a row.

Neil curates the quarterly series of Firestarters thought leadership events on behalf of Google, and has worked with market-leading global businesses including Warner Bros, HBOS, YouTube, Marks & Spencer, Leo Burnett and Disney, and is an associate of The Futures Agency, a collaboration of some of the world’s leading media thinkers and futurists.

He has over 20 years media owner experience and was latterly the Director of Marketing, Strategy and Digital for IPC Media, the largest consumer publisher in the UK and publisher of multimedia brands including Wallpaper, Marie Claire and the NME. In this capacity he ran award-winning strategy, planning and consumer insight functions and was at the centre of defining and implementing the digital strategy for one of the largest media owners in the UK.

Table of contents

1. Executive Summary

  • About Econsultancy
  • About the author

2. Introduction

3. The Digital Leadership Context

4. Leadership Qualities in the Digital Age

5. Leadership Roles

6. Appendix


  • Pdf SAMPLE: Effective Leadership in the Digital Age (894 KB PDF)
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