Digitisation was undoubtedly one of the trend topics of the past year. Contrary to what the talk of the trend suggests, however, digitalization is anything but a temporary phenomenon – it is rather a so-called megatrend: a long-lasting development that shapes all areas of social life. (Source Haufe). In order to implement this, the collective term “Digital Leadership” has been formed.

Haufe also noted that: The market never demanded innovations, solutions and methods so quickly, the need for skilled workers was never higher and there has never been such a close network across local and time boundaries. This presents managers with new challenges in personnel management. One possible solution is agile leadership.

Thus, on the one hand, there is agile leadership and on the other hand digital leadership. But what is the difference and what is currently optimal in the digital transformation?

Agile Leadership

For executives, leadership in an agile organization means concretely: the pyramid stands head, hierarchical leadership thanks to power is replaced by serving leadership thanks to the model. Managers who define themselves through predetermined and controlled, rigid target systems and motivational bonuses, fixed processes and professional authority now face the challenge of having to rethink leadership (Source Haufe).

So the pyramid is headed and agile leaders lead differently. When you use Google, you will find many principles and values behind agility and leadership. I would therefore like to quote haufe’s article as an example and mention the principles from the Google study in the article as an example of agile leadership:

  • Be a good coach.
  • Empower your team and don’t take care of every little thing.
  • Show interest in the success and well-being of your people.
  • Be productive and orient yourself to results.
  • Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
  • Support your employees in their career development.
  • Show a clear vision and comprehensible strategy.
  • Have the necessary professional skills to advise your team.

Overall, agile leadership therefore demands various principles of managers. Appelo once quite well portrayed this as a being with many eyes, which must focus on many things. If you look at the principles, you will notice that an agile manager is very much in demand. Read for more my article on agile leadership or look at the book by Boris Gloger.

agile leadership
The modern manager: A creature with many eyes who keeps an eye on the big picture at 360 degrees and focuses on many things at the same time. Illustration: Appelo (2010, p. 370)

Digital Leadership – Agile Leadership only digital?

Now we have a new word: digital leadership. First, like agile leadership, this is a collective term for leadership principles in the digital age. If you look at the first articles, both terms are often the same in many places. But why digital leadership? The Research Project of the Crisp says:

A number of high expectations are projected on the new generation of executives. In addition to a variety of desired characteristics, the Digital Leader primarily maintains a constructive and continuous exchange with its own IT department, actively informs itself about IT innovations and thinks disruptively with regard to new processes and business models.

If you look at my articles on digital leadership, you will find numerous principles, which are again often the same. However, there is a crucial point: there is now a digital transformation that calls for numerous new trends and, above all, more know-how and digital competence of executives. In addition to being with many eyes, a manager now needs to understand a lot of theories and trends. Topics such as remote leadership, etc. are also added. For more, you can look at my article on digital guidance or Petry’s book.

digital Leadership
The Digital Manager: A Being Assembled from Many Things Appelo (2010, p. 370)

Digital Leadership Expands Agile Leadership

It is therefore to be managed even more individually and the executive is to become even more deeply involved in topics relating to digitalization. But how do you lead more individually? There are numerous pages explaining a situational leadership. In short, however, this only means that you lead every employee with the right methods. There are by large nine methods of leading employees.

agile leadership digital leadership
Team leadership styles (Own presentation based on the knowledge of career bible)

Digital Leadership – the tools of the manager

In the following I would like to briefly explain the 9 management tools from which a manager can use. He has to juggle these daily and alternately for each employee. Basically, the management methods differ in the autonomy of the employee in the search and execution of tasks as well as in the equal footing with the manager. This is shown in the following figure. I don’t know if they’re complete and 100% right. I am currently researching it myself and will update it again and again with new findings. If you discover an exciting source, please let me know about the comment function.

agile digital leadership
Leadership styles in a team arranged according to eye level and autonomy (own presentation with some inspiration from career bible)

Variant 1: Strong Hierarchy

Controlling leadership is probably known to most readers. The boss follows and checks every step of the employee. In this form, one has the least autonomy and is assigned every task by a superior.

Conducting leadership is the equivalent of controlling leadership, except that control is less severe. The conductor of an orchestra sets the beat but not how to play the instrument.

Delegating leadership has the greatest autonomy and the boss gives a task completely to the employee without instructions as this has to be done. This usually happens between departmental and team leaders. There is enormous autonomy, but no eye-level.

Variant 2: Middle hierarchy

Steering is the targeted distribution of tasks. The boss passes on a task, but doesn’t say how to do it anymore. Basically, this can be compared a little with a project manager with an authority to issue instructions.

In coordinating leadership, the boss only sees that all tasks are somehow completed and no longer assigns them concretely. So he is more likely to vote for the tasks to be done. It could almost be a product owner.

Collaborative leadership works things out together. This is compared to a team that works on a project and has a team speaker, but who only jumps in and gives instructions when needed. So he monitors rather than really leads and helps the team. One can even say that this could also be a kind of scrum master.

Variant 3: Little hierarchy

Leading leadership is typical of the integration of new employees. One employee is involved and guided by another. This condition often does not last long. The team leader is part of the team here, as in all the following examples.

Motivating leadership aims to maintain performance, i.e. motivation, and takes care of the well-being in the team, so to speak. This, too, could be a scrum master.

Participating leadership is a behavior that involves the rest of the team. So there are democratic elements and team decisions here.

Welchen Führungsstil bevorzugen Sie für sich?


Whether agile or digital doesn’t really matter. It is becoming increasingly stressful for managers, as they are expected to have not only professional but also high emotional skills. On the one hand, they are supposed to drive digital change at high speed and, on the other hand, with high flexibility, to guide every employee as they wish. In the end, it turns out that behind digital leadership there is actually an increasing expectation of agile leadership around digital topics and an even greater flexibility in the selection of leadership instruments.

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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