What does it take to be a Digital Leader in 2017?

Some of the most important aspects of successful leadership include: always challenging yourself; never remaining complacent; constantly learning and being inspired by your peers.

In 2017, in a time of uncertainty and constant disruption to our industry due to, for example, new competitors and new customer requirements, our challenges are heavily amplified and these aspects of leadership are more important than ever in order to secure a successful future for our Business.

Debating Leadership

The topic of Digital Leadership, and namely, what it takes to be a Digital Leader in 2017, was explored in our recent internal “digitalONE Leadership Conference” where we hosted a live debate featuring Scout24 CEO, Greg Ellis. Scout24 bundles leading digital marketplaces for cars and real estate under one name – a perfect dialogue partner for our issues.

Greg has had an impressive career spanning 20 years in the online world. Prior to Scout24 and amongst other positions, he was Marketing Director for Online Services at Microsoft Asia and Managing Director and CEO at REA Group. And like myself, has steered companies toward successful digital and cultural transformation. During the debate, we discussed at length the qualities and capabilities required from a true Digital Leader in 2017 and beyond, with some surprising insights:

  • Leaders must define a clear purpose for their organization. It must solve a genuine human need, it must be the single reason the business exists, and it must motivate your team to want to walk through the door every single day.
  • Leaders must set up clear tenets for the business. The core principles everyone works for, believes, lives and breathes everyday.
  • Leaders must have an innate ability to work with people. You must understand and accept you have a vast range of people to deal with and you can’t do it on your own.
  • Leaders must have low ego, high self esteem, high competency. Believe the fact that you won’t always have the answers. Surround yourself with the most highly skilled people who share the company’s philosophy and vision.
  • Digital Leaders today need to be risk-orientated – if you can’t handle change or risk, you won’t make it in today’s digital world. You must be able to handle a daily sense of urgency, and permanent lack of comfort.
  • Leaders must have a vast ability to read and anticipate markets, by reviewing data and applying good judgment. Prediction of market and consumer behavior is crucial – digital leaders today need to always stay one…or two, or three… steps ahead.
  • And above all, leaders must be curious, open to constantly learning, and continually challenging themselves.

 A business culture that embraces digital

From my own perspective within Mercedes-Benz, my focus is on leading a business culture that embraces digital in every aspect of our work. I want every single employee within Daimler to be an active and accountable participant in this cultural shift, and really ‘own’ our core tenets in the work they do. We have already established some new working methods. For example, 280 people work in swarms on different projects – which means flat hierarchies and end-to-end responsibility.

What are the leadership principles your business swears by? What do you think makes a great leader in today’s digital world? I would love to hear your thoughts and, as any strong leader does, I am always keen to continue learning from my peers.


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She is Vice President Digital & IT Marketing/Sales Mercedes-Benz Cars, head of the new digital unit of Mercedes-Benz Cars since July 2016. In this newly created function, she is responsible for all IT based Marketing-, Sales and After sales activities as well as the whole digital customer experience of the brand Mercedes-Benz.

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