What exactly is a “Digital Leader”? Is it reserved exclusively for tech giants and multinationals? The truth is, any business has the opportunity to excel at digital leadership, regardless of its size.

But this can require more than just IT savviness. It often requires leaders who live and breathe digital - those that exhibit a thorough understanding of digital technology, including the opportunity it presents, how to use it strategically, and its impact on culture.

With digitalization rapidly transforming the business landscape, possessing the knowledge to use digital innovation can be invaluable. Equipped with this know-how and new tools such as predictive analytics, digital leaders can gain insights and streamline business processes.

Within a company’s senior leadership team, the CEO should lead this charge from a vision and strategy perspective, sharing the message across an organization, according to a 2015 Harvard Business Review (HBR) study, sponsored by Red Hat.

However, the CIO should play a leading role in proactively educating and empowering business leaders with digital skills and platforms.

Here is an action plan for CIOs, based on the HBR research:

  • Create a digital advisory board comprised of internal and outside experts to advise the executive team.
  • Learn to paint a picture of the digital future, and use examples from other companies in similar industries to make that real.
  • Embed IT staff in the lines of business so that learning happens during work, not just in special meetings or training sessions.
  • Create a common lexicon to increase understanding, communicating in a language that makes sense from the perspective of business activities and outcomes.
  • Partner closely with key business leaders to identify digital knowledge and skills needed to reside in the lines of business and which should reside in IT.
  • Work with the training and development organization to establish both formal and informal learning forums.
  • Embrace a coaching framework across the organization, with KPIs built into individual managers’ performance reviews.
  • Identify and bring in outside experts to address specific trends for different parts of the business.

According to the HBR study, digital leaders are more likely than ‘digital followers’ or ‘digital laggards’ to have revenue growth over 10% and profits margins that are greater than the industry average. You can download the report here to read more best practices from HBR to help accelerate your firm’s digital education.