New Work

Digital Leadership - shaping the future with trust

Merle Rüter

31. Aug 2023 | 3 min.

Digital Leadership - mit Vertrauen die Zukunft gestalten

A new leadership style conquers the world of work

Leadership is booming. New Leadership, Leadership 4.0, Positive Leadership… New terms are constantly emerging and the market is flooded with leadership trainings, coachings and guidebooks. In fact, this is good thing because something needs to change. Only one in four employees in Germany was completely satisfied with their direct manager at the end of last year according to the annual Gallup Engagement Index (Gallup, 2023). But what exactly is supposed to change?

The digital transformation is  responsible for the major changes in our today´s world. Everyone knows about it: Some love it, others fear it. One thing is certain: digitalization is currently the driver of innovation. With consequences: Companies need to develop new ideas and be agile in order to react quickly to changing conditions.  Bureaucracy and complicated hierarchical channels stand in the way. Managers who are supposed to understand and take all the decisions of their employees? Too slow. A culture in which knowledge is power? Uninspiring. Manual Excel tables with 27 S-references? Too many errors. Therefore, leaders need a new approach: “Digital Leadership” – leadership in the context of digital transformation. With the guiding principle of “digital first”, digital leaders initiate the introduction and use of digital technologies in the company. They consider to what extent new tools make sense, which processes can be automated and which structures can be adapted for this.

But even the most motivated manager is ineffective without motivated employees. That is why digital leaders work actively to promote a corporate culture in which employees develop an awareness of digital technologies and innovation. This is done through suitable change management approaches that involve employees in the change processes to build acceptance and skills. Like all leadership styles, digital leadership is thus linked to values and visions, processes and structures that manifest themselves in a certain way.

Based on trust – The VOPA+ Mindset

"VOPA+" model - The acronym refers to 5 central characteristics

In order to use the opportunities of digital transformation in their own companies, digital leaders need a suitable mindset. The literature often refers to the so-called “VOPA+” model. The acronym refers to five central characteristics.

5 characteristics of the "VOPA+" model


Very few people and companies can act autonomously today. Only the interaction of many different minds from within the company and the whole value chain enable the diversity of ideas that innovation needs today. One task of digital leaders is therefore establishing a strong network between employees and stakeholders via physical and virtual channels.


Digital leaders give themselves and their teams permission to adopt new approaches, to share knowledge, to provide feedback and to admit mistakes. Conversely, this freedom results in an increased need for discussion and conflict potential to which digital leaders react sensitively with the help of social intelligence and mediation skills.


According to Gallup (2023), a large number of German employees do not feel inspired by their manager to take on new challenges. An important task of digital leaders is to promote the self-responsibility of employees by acting as trainers, mentors and coaches instead of commanders or controllers.

„Only 14 percent state that their manager inspires them to do things they would not have thought themselves capable of.“

Gallup Engagement Index (2023)


Those who always remain flexible and react quickly to changing circumstances without losing focus on the customer will prevail over the competition. This requires short decision-making paths through self-organised teams, customer-centricity and quick learning from mistakes, which digital leaders encourage.

Trust as a plus

The basis of these characteristics is trust. Since the Corona pandemic, trust in superiors and especially in top management has dropped significantly, according to Gallup (2023). Digital leaders are counteracting this trend. Trust from managers in employees and vice versa, trust in one’s own ideas and resources as well as trust in digital technologies form the basis for successful cooperation.

The diverse roles of a digital leader

Those who expect digital leaders to primarily have digital expertise and to think in terms of 0 and 1 will not be able to change organisations in the desired way. For successful change, digital leaders also need a variety of methodological and social skills.

  • Digital leaders are visionaries who can draw and communicate goals in order to give orientation to their teams and stakeholders.
  • They act as mediators and coaches to build successful relationships and support employees in acting self-organized and responsible.
  • As digital transformation is a process of change, digital leaders are also change managers who establish new structures, relationships and cultures in their companies.

In summary, digital leaders are the driving force behind the digitalization and technologization of companies. They are role models for innovative and agile behaviour and support their employees in testing out new solutions independently and constantly optimizing their cooperation and products through honest feedback. This is a challenging task that demands a wide range of competences and yet, this leadership style is indispensable in the world of New Work.

Sources and Inspiration

Buhse, W. (2014). Management by Internet – Neue Führungsmodelle für Unternehmen in Zeiten der digitalen Transformation. Plassen.

Ciesielski, M. A., Schutz, T. (2016). Digitale Führung. Wie die neuen Technologien unsere Zusammenarbeit wertvoller machen, Springer Gabler.

Gallup Organization (2023). Engagement Index Deutschland 2022.

Petry, T. (Hrsg). (2019). Digital Leadership. Erfolgreiches Führen in Zeiten der Digital Economy. Haufe.