Tim Dickson and Geoff Helt share the strategy for building digital leadership capacity at Laureate Education, a $4.3 billion global education company, and how they leveraged AI to help assess digital readiness.

Whether you’re staring down the Amazon effect or just trying to keep up with your customers’ rising expectations, Digital Transformation is top of mind for executives everywhere. While a pinpoint strategy is essential for success, sustaining positive results depends upon your organization’s ability to rapidly scale digital leadership capacity. 

Over the last few months, this is precisely the challenge we have tackled head-on at Laureate Education. From our experience, there are three critical steps in building digital leaders and expanding your capacity to win in a disruptive future. 

STEP 1: Define your Digital Talent Print ™ 

Tim Dickson, digital leader, LaureateWhile the field of leadership is well plowed, we’re just now getting our heads wrapped around what it means to lead in a truly digital world. Beyond mere buzzwords, we have discovered that digital leadership represents nothing short of a new paradigm. Digital leaders have an “it” factor, possessing strengths and mastery in unique areas that are key to driving growth in a digital world. 

To capture the depth and breadth of this shift, we have created a “Digital Talent Print” — a comprehensive profile of the distinctive capabilities that set digital leaders apart. Defining your Digital Talent Print — what it means to be a digital leader of the future — is a foundational step in aligning the executive team around the broader transformation agenda. 

The profile sets a new standard of achievement for teams and promising new leaders.

Here are the capabilities that are the difference makers:  

  1. Maniacal focus on the customer
    Passion for making customers’ lives better through simplicity and convenience.

  2. Connecting the dots:
    stitching together disparate trends and technologies; translating deep uncertainty and complexity into strategic clarity.

  3. Favor speed over perfection 
    Moving with velocity and acting with urgency in direction of end-game vision. Using prototyping and experimentation to figure out the future, faster.

  4. Think and design in platforms
    The ability to architect with a digital mindset towards a scaled platform. A platform that gleans insights from data and “connects the dots” of seemingly-unrelated trends to setup new business models and drive revenue.

  5. Be an incubator of top talentGeoff Helt2
    While every extraordinary leader is a magnet for talent, the best digital leaders take this to the next level. They seek out and nurture the data scientists, business strategists, enterprise architects, app developers and experience designers that will enable the future and establish an environment where creative abrasion unlocks unimaginable potential.

  6. Courage and a much larger ambition
    The expansive visions made possible by digital require a deep reservoir of discipline and follow through, no matter the adversity. 

STEP 2: Assess the current state (where leaders are today) 

We’ve developed a self-assessment designed to derive an individual’s “digital capacity.” This self-assessment allows each team member to measure themselves against key capabilities as well as identify strengths and aspirations that help gauge digital readiness.

To this end, there are five key questions we ask: 

  1. How customer-centric are you?
    Do you have a core understanding of your business with the ability to leverage customer insights to shape new areas of focus using digital technologies as enablers? Do you have an obsessive focus on making the customer’s experience demonstrably better?

  2. How curious and creative are you?
    Do you drive engagement through a creative point of view and a positive open mind to identify and leverage gaps as areas of opportunity? Do you have a propensity to learn and apply new technologies and frameworks?

  3. Are you insightful and innovative?
    Do you have an open mind and a creative point of view to shape new opportunities with digital tech?

  4. Are you a change agent?
    Do you have an insatiable desire to win? Courage and fearlessness are a big part of a Digital Leader’s ethos to drive change with velocity and positive disruption towards value creation. A Digital Leader must challenge the status quo and ceaselessly advocate for change.

  5. Can you glean insights and trends from data?
    Do you use curiosity plus advanced technology to identify patterns, trends and possibilities in big data?

Digital Leadership requires a number of capabilities to drive transformation across any industry. The characteristics above are just a sampling – the ones that we have noticed are game-changers. These can be learned and improved over time through mentoring, and internal or external training. 

Related Article: 

Data-Driven Automation: The key to successful digital leadership 


STEP 3: Close the gap through curriculum, coaching and real-world projects

In most organizations, the gap — between current and future state — is cavernous. Closing the digital divide demands a level of discipline and follow through that is not for the faint of heart. The bridge is comprised of: on-the-ground training, mentoring culture and leadership conditioning. 

We leveraged artificial intelligence as a tool to help gauge the digital readiness of the organization and to generate insights into the training and curriculum that will build a deep digital capacity. The machine learning-enabled processes create recommendations for addressing gaps with designed experiments to help answer the following questions: 

  • Is the team ready to lead digital transformation?
  • Are there glaring trends that point to significant gaps or possibilities?
  • What leaders are at the top of the digital talent pool?
  • What training and curriculum will move the needle the most?
  • How do we measure and learn the model to deepen our digital capacity?

Customer-focus and change management are regularly highlighted as areas for follow through. Design Thinking workshops will help team members who are curious about customers but don’t necessarily know how to incorporate customer perspective into their projects. Describing and “personalizing change” in the context of one’s new role is an approach we’ve seen that gains immense support with users. 

In the end, a culture of consistent coaching, education and awareness of digital best practices, and constant, repeated reinforcement of digital leadership principles will help shape the digital leaders of the future. 

For leaders, the time is now – to reframe what business is about in the 21st century, and reinvent how one leads and wins in this disruptive world.

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