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Digital Leadership: Approaches and Practical Insights from the B2B Sector


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Digitalization has put forward a new leadership approach known as "digital leadership". This leadership approach has gained strong influence in the context of current changes in the world. The B2B sector is also affected by these current developments and the associated impact on digital leadership style. This sector also has to find new approaches to digital leadership. The aim of this article is to identify theoretical and practical concepts in a literature review. These should provide an overview of existing applications. Based on this, we conducted semi-structured interviews. From this, the transformation to digital leadership in the B2B sector and the associated success factors and challenges are highlighted. In a comparison between practice and theory in conjunction with findings from the interviews; success factors, gaps and potential for improvement are identified and interpreted, and appropriate recommendations are derived.
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Digital Leadership: Approaches and
Practical Insights from the B2B Sector
Katharina Ehmig-Klassen*
University of Applied Sciences Neu-Ulm
Wileystrasse 1, 89231 Neu-Ulm, Germany.
* Corresponding author
Daniel Schallmo
University of Applied Sciences Neu-Ulm
Wileystrasse 1, 89231 Neu-Ulm, Germany.
Abstract: Digitalization has put forward a new leadership approach known as
digital leadership”. This leadership approach has gained strong influence in
the context of current changes in the world. The B2B sector is also affected by
these current developments and the associated impact on digital leadership
style. This sector also has to find new approaches to digital leadership. The aim
of this article is to identify theoretical and practical concepts in a literature re-
view. These should provide an overview of existing applications. Based on this,
we conducted semi-structured interviews. From this, the transformation to digi-
tal leadership in the B2B sector and the associated success factors and chal-
lenges are highlighted. In a comparison between practice and theory in con-
junction with findings from the interviews; success factors, gaps and potential
for improvement are identified and interpreted, and appropriate recommenda-
tions are derived.
Keywords: digital leadership; digital transformation; digitalization; potentials;
success factors
1 Introduction
Digitalization is changing everyone's lives, both in the world of work and in other areas
of life. Companies are facing major challenges in this respect. Business models must be
adapted, new digital technologies must be integrated into work processes, and last but not
least, employees must not be left behind. To this end, the management culture and man-
agement style in companies must also adapt accordingly.
Leadership is an important success factor in change processes (Bass & Bass, 2008).
There are different types of leadership for different areas, such as agile leadership, new
leadership, digital leadership, and lean leadership (Dopheide, 2020). The term digital
leadershipwas developed for the transformation to digitalization. There is no standard
definition for digital leadership, and different models and approaches have been devel-
oped in recent years (Zulu & Khosrowshahi, 2021).
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Due to current changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, digital leadership has gained
a lot of influence. Many employees with office jobs were sent to home offices overnight,
and had to be managed from there as well. This also affected the B2B sector. This study
will examine how digital leadership developed in the B2B sector before, during, and after
the pandemic. Furthermore, experiences are shared, and what is needed in terms of digital
leadership is discussed.
2 Research Questions and Research Design
2.1 Research Questions
Several existing approaches have advanced our digital leadership knowledge. Based on
the problem described and our current understanding, we aim to gain insights into digital
leadership in a B2B context in relation to the current situation, especially requirements.
This research will answer the following research questions:
What approaches exist for digital leadership and how can these approaches be de-
Is digital leadership used in the B2B context and what requirements exist?
How have the last two years changed digital leadership in the B2B context?
2.2 Research Design
In our research, we engaged in a review of theoretical and practical literature on ap-
proaches to digital leadership using the multivocal literature review approach. A so-called
Multivocal Literature Review is an approach that includes gray literature in addition to
published formal or academic literature (Garousi et al., 2019). Incorporating gray litera-
ture into our research allows subsequent findings to be more useful and applicable in
In addition to these findings, based on the research objective and research questions,
semi-structured interviews were used to collect and analyze data in order to gain insights
into digital leadership in the B2B sector. Semi-structured interviews are considered a
suitable research method to gain insights into digital leadership requirements and allow
the researcher to collect a foundation of data. This type of interview has the advantage of
a casual conversational setting with open-ended response options within a certain frame-
work (Longhurst, 2016). The questions used for this purpose can be found in the appen-
dix. The interviewed companies are from the B2B sector but will be included anony-
mously in this study.
The multivocal literature review and semi-structured interviews serve as a guideline
for further research in this area. The results obtained here are summarized and evaluated
accordingly. In the process, success factors, gaps, and potential for improvement will be
identified and interpreted, and appropriate recommendations will be derived.
2.3 Data Collection
To gain insights from experts on the requirements for digital leadership, we developed a
guide for semi-structured interviews. In September 2021, the interview guide was tested
with researchers of a similar background, and included the questions in Appendix 1. For
this research, we used only a portion of the questions, which are summarized in the fol-
lowing block:
State of the company 2 years ago in the context of digital leadership
Changes due to the pandemic in the context of digital leadership
Future plans in the context of digital leadership
Experiences (pos./neg.) with digital leadership
In the respective question blocks, we addressed the areas of implementation, struc-
ture, initiatives, and experience. We interviewed eight experts/CEOs from Germany
(B2B) from October 6 to October 19, 2021. The semi-structured interviews conducted are
shown in Table 1.
Table 1 Experts interviewed
Expert 1
Partner and Director, Digi-
tal Solutions
Consulting company for transfor-
mation and digitalization of business
models, products, and processes
Oct. 6,
Expert 2
Digital Transformation
Team Manager
Manufacturing company for packag-
ing machines
Oct. 13,
Expert 3
Managing Director
Vehicle and sales car construction
Oct. 13,
Expert 4
Team Leader UX and Ana-
lytics eBusiness, Appliance
Company for fridge and freezer pro-
Oct. 14,
Expert 5
Executive Vice President,
Company for consulting and IT-
Oct. 18,
Expert 6
Logistics Specialist for
Process Optimization
Manufacturing company and supplier
of formwork and scaffold systems
Oct. 18,
Expert 7
Managing Director
Company for digital and print media
Oct. 18,
Expert 8
Managing Director
Company for copper and copper alloy
Oct. 19,
2.4 Quality Criteria
To ensure a high level of validity of the results (Denzin, 1970), we applied triangulation
in several ways by gaining data from several sources. First, we combined existing theo-
retical and practical approaches to digital leadership to utilize advantages and insight
from existing knowledge (Denzin, 1970). Second, we applied eight semi-structured inter-
views to gain insights from experts and CEOs from B2B companies.
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The reliability of our results was ensured by transcribing the outcomes of the semi-
structured interviews in a report with additional notes. This information, in combination
with existing approaches, forms an empirical data pattern and the basis for interpretations
of our research questions concerning digital leadership. Objectivity was ensured by pre-
testing, including existing approaches and the interview guide. In addition, we applied
subsequent data analysis. The general applicability of our approach is a challenge requir-
ing adaptation of the approach to the needs of each company.
3 Theory
Companies in the B2B sector already face an enormous challenge when it comes to
adapting digital business models, digital processes, and digital infrastructure. Above all,
there is the digital strategy. For this to be truly implemented, it is not enough to introduce
new technologies. People also count, and this shifts the focus to leadership. Leaders con-
tinue to be a key factor, regardless of the change project. Leaders not only initialize the
change, but also ensure that collaboration in the digital world works (Crummenerl &
Kemmer, 2015).
As early as the fifth century B.C., the concept of leadership was introduced by Socrates
or by Xenophon, one of Socrates' students in the transcription of his dialogues. The
main features of this general definition are still relevant today, because in addition to
knowledge, experience and a certain talent, Socrates emphasized that leaders must be
able to motivate others and act as role models (Xenophon & Audring, 1992).
Today there is an even more specific description for leadership: it is understood as a
relational process (Meindl, 1995; Northouse, 2016) and as a goal-related influencing
factor (House, 2004; Rosenstiel, 2009; Spendlove, 2007) that is used to achieve specific
organizational goals, and is essential for organizational change (Wolverton, 1998). Hu-
man relationality from coordination, sense-making, and influence within and outside
organizations play a primary role in this process. Leadership is described as a social con-
struct (Berger & Luckmann, 1967) and is created by actions between people; and in com-
panies, between employees and managers (Smircich & Morgan, 1982).
Digital Leadership
The topic of digital leadership is challenging from two points of view. It is unclear
whether it is a concept for leadership or a concept for leadership in the digital age (Eh-
lers, 2018). It has also become more urgent than ever due to the pandemic. Companies
find themselves in the midst of change, and leaders are caught between strategies for
digital transformation and the implementation of digitalization.
Furthermore, there is a differentiation between digital leadership and a digital leader.
This research paper focuses on digital leadership, which affects the entire organization,
and sees the digital leader as part of it.
There is no standard definition for digital leadership. Hence, we use definitions that
are suitable for our subsequent research in this paper.
El Sawy et al. (2016) define digital leadership as doing the right things for the stra-
tegic success of digitalization for the enterprise and its business ecosystem.”
Westerman et al. (2014) note that “the disruption of digital technology makes digital
skills and leadership skills equally important and plays a strategic role in the competi-
tiveness of companies.
Hensellek (2020) refers to digital leadership as leaders who follow a vision and for-
mulate this for the future in the area of digitalization. The digital leader develops a digital
vision for the future of their organization, with an overriding principle of meaningfulness
for the people involved, and with the focus on them.
Some of the literature defines digital leadership as a key skill that managers must
have in order to carry out digital transformation (Zeike et al., 2019). Through digital
leadership, business leaders develop a clear and meaningful vision, and actualize strate-
gies related to the digitalization process (Zeike et al.; 2019).
In summary, digital leadership must meet the requirements of an appropriate mindset
(digital mindset), the necessary skills (digital skillset), and the successful implementation
of digitalization (digital implementation). The formulation and realization of a credible
digital vision is superordinate to this leadership concept. The approaches selected and
analyzed below share this perspective.
4 Literature Review of Existing Approaches to Digital Leadership
In order to obtain a clear picture of the existing literature concerning digital leadership,
the following approaches were carefully analyzed: Gierlich-Joas et al. (2020), Larjovuori
et al. (2018), Moskaliuk (2019), and Rüth and Netzer (2020). Within our research, we
focus on the analysis of approaches since 2018 in order to include actual insights. Each
approach will be described by applying the following criteria:
Initial Situation and Objective: How was the approach developed (methodology) and
on what basis (sources)? What is the approach’s objective?
Level of Detail: How detailed and comprehensive is the description of the approach?
Principles: What are the principles of the approach?
Model: What is the approach’s model, e.g. which phases and dimensions are rele-
Techniques: What techniques are applied in the individual phases and activities?
Gierlich-Joas et al. (2020)
Initial Situation and Objective
The approach of Gierlich-Joas et al. (2020) builds on the results of other authors (see:
Parviainen et al., 2017; Cooper & Zmud, 1990; Johnson et al., 2016a; Tursunbayeva et
al., 2018), which cover traditional and modern methods of transparency. Gierlich-Joas et
al. (2020) pursue the goal of adapting the factor of transparency at the management level
in such a way that a new foundation of leadership is created on which other organization
areas can build.
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The approach describes the principle of inverse transparency, and thus enables the transi-
tion from a conventional to a modern and digital management method. Furthermore, the
effects of inverse transparency on the working environment of employees are shown.
Level of Detail
The level of detail is high, as agency theory illustrates the influence of inverse transpar-
ency on the perspectives of managers and employees.
The model includes the following phases (Gierlich-Joas et al., 2020; Cooper & Zmud,
Initiation: The first phase describes a progressive dissatisfaction in a company and
an increasing pressure among employees. The motivation for transformation in-
creases when there is dissatisfaction with the current management approach and a
desire for greater data transparency within a company.
Adoption: The adoption phase begins with the weighting of data transparency.
Various stakeholders define their data transparency conditions, which serve as the
basis for the definition of requirements. The higher the data transparency, the
more optimal the inverse transparency.
Adaptation: In the adaptation phase, all technical and organizational conditions
are adapted and implemented. For inverse transparency, a large amount of em-
ployee data is necessary. This data is used to drive digital innovation. Two aspects
play a special role: (a) an appropriate culture of innovation and error should be in-
troduced for inverse transparency, and (b) inverse transparency and the resulting
digital leadership innovationchange the organizational culture.
Acceptance: Employees have communicated their requirements and are ready to
use novel techniques that ensure transparency. Two points also play a role here:
(a) the general satisfaction of employees is increased due to the acceptance of
digital leadership innovations, based on inverse transparency; and (b) the ac-
ceptance of digital leadership innovations leads to new control styles, which in
turn enable a new way of distributing resources.
Routinization: In the routinization phase, the new approach is consolidated. Dif-
ferent types of tracking are used to increase transparency and; for example, to re-
duce external costs. In particular, the availability of information for all stakehold-
ers is facilitated.
Infusion: This phase comes into effect only after several years of practicing the
previous phases. After several iterations, the concept of inverse transparency is es-
tablished in the company.
Concrete techniques are not mentioned. Rather, technologies are mentioned that make it
possible to obtain data. Such technologies are at the production level (e.g. sensors, GPS)
and the supply chain level (e.g. barcodes).
Larjovuori et al. (2018)
Initial Situation and Objective
The approach of Larjovuori et al. (2018) is based on a literature review and interviews
with employees of various organizations. The approach describes the perspective of a
leader in times of digitalization and aims to present various aspects that a modern leader
should focus on during a digital transformation.
Larjovuori et al. (2018) describe as essential aspects the corporate strategy and vision of
an entrepreneur. In addition, it is explained that employees have an increased right of co-
determination, which can create a flat hierarchy. Factors such as the working environ-
ment, the corporate structure, and social competence are listed.
Level of Detail
The individual aspects are explained in detail.
Based on the interviews conducted, the essential aspects upon which a digital leader
should concentrate are presented (Larjovuori et al., 2018):
Strong vision and clear goals: Strategic leadership in the digitalization process is
highly relevant. The clear focus of an organization and the direction of develop-
ment come into play. The starting point within the model is therefore the strategy,
which enables a clear and consistent transformation.
Commitment and investment: Commitment includes communication about digital-
ization and the derivation and implementation of targeted measures to promote
digital business development. For example, new managers and employees should
be hired for the transformation process, who will drive digital development as re-
sponsible experts.
Leading cultural change: The successful implementation of cultural changes plays
a major role in digital transformation. In particular, a culture of innovation comes
into play, which promotes creativity, risk-taking, and experimentation.
Coaching: This refers to the motivation and support of employees. Coaching is
considered a fundamental discipline to be able to manage a company. In particu-
lar, coaching includes giving feedback, trusting employees, finding new ways to-
gether, and inspiring and motivating employees.
Encouraging participation: This includes leadership practices that encourage em-
ployees to actively participate in the digital transformation process. Employees
should also be motivated to participate in the transformation with their own ideas.
Customer orientation: During the digitalization process, customer expectations of
products change, among other things. In order to meet customer needs, a modern
manager should take into account the feedback and wishes of customers
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Collaboration and partnership: In addition to the increasing role of customers in
digital transformation, the role of business collaborations and partnerships is high-
lighted. Partnerships are seen as facilitating digital transformation, as they can
open up new business opportunities.
The approach of Larjovuori et al. (2018) does not involve any techniques.
Moskaliuk (2019)
Initial Situation and Objective
The approach of Moskaliuk (2019) is literature-based and aims to provide practical
knowledge and concrete tools for managers.
The approach of Moskaliuk (2019) describes how a digital company should be designed
and how such a company should operate. The aspects of management and the working
environment of employees play an essential role. Other key points are social skills, deal-
ing with employees, and corporate structure.
Level of Detail
The approach described involves a few factors that are presented in great detail.
The model consists of the following four central aspects (Moskaliuk, 2019):
Listen carefully to what is really meant: Listening is active and the focus should
be completely on the other person. All opinions should be heard, especially those
that contain critical or questioning views.
Thinking divergently and being open to new ideas: Divergent thinking can be
equated with thinking outside the box.Employees should be motivated to think
experimentally and imaginatively. Irrational thoughts can encourage innovation in
some cases. Once they are expressed, there is an examination of the extent to
which new ideas fit into the specifications and framework conditions of the com-
Celebrate successes and name those involved: For each milestone or other success
achieved, everyone responsible should be praised, which increases motivation.
Appreciation also helps to maintain the performance of a team, even if the goal is
not always in sight.
Reflect and communicate their own role: Every employee, and especially the
manager, should be aware of his or her position. It is no longer standard for a
manager to have all the answers. Rather, the task of a manager is to motivate and
support others.
Lateral leadership includes motivated employees. The motive check helps to keep an
eye on individual employees and their motivation. Various factors are used to check
whether the motives of employees correspond to those of the project or management. In
this way, conflicts can be avoided and motivation can be increased (Moskaliuk, 2019).
Rüth and Netzer (2020)
Initial Situation and Objective
The approach of Rüth and Netzer (2020) is based on literature, and aims to explain the
role of cultural intelligence in the context of management.
The approach distinguishes between a CEO and a manager. The approach shows how in
today's successful digital company, a modern executive (CEO) should divide their re-
sponsibility between managers from different cultures if they want to act globally. While
a CEO is supposed to take care of the people and develop a corporate strategy, a manager
should deal with the achievement of company goals.
The approach of Rüth and Netzer (2020) describes the various aspects at an average level
of detail.
Rüth and Netzer (2020) describe four dimensions in which cultural intelligence can be
exercised. The four dimensions are explained below:
Cognitive dimension: The cognitive dimension gathers knowledge about the rules
and norms of a particular culture. This includes the legal and economic system, as
well as elements such as language, religious values, art, marriage practices, and
body language.
Metacognitive dimension: The metacognitive dimension describes the ability to
learn cultural knowledge correctly everywhere, to replace false knowledge, and to
be able to expand incomplete knowledge. The knowledge can be learned by ob-
serving and studying, and through new behaviors. Metacognitive abilities include
sensitivity, empathy, and self-reflection.
Motivational dimension: The motivation dimension includes the will to discard
one's own pattern of behavior and devote oneself to a completely new style. It
measures how much a leader is willing to change in order to achieve a goal. This
includes the self-confidence to adapt to an unpredictable situation or a foreign cul-
Behavioral dimension: The behavioral dimension includes basic social skills. This
means that communication techniques are learned every day, which can be an ad-
vantage in an intercultural exchange.
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The approach does not include explicit techniques.
There are three options for the starting point and objective: literature, expert interviews,
or a combination thereof. The objective of all approaches is to change the management
approach. The focus is either on showing the manager opportunities for personal change,
or for change at the company. The principles refer to start-ups, to digital companies, or to
digital transformation. However, they do not apply to the B2B sector.
The models can be divided into types: phase models and dimension models. Phase
models describe individual steps that are relevant in the context of digital leadership,
while dimension models contain elements that are relevant for digital leadership. The
level of detail indicates in how much detail the approach is described using the criteria of
the description grid. The approaches are described in different levels of detail. The major-
ity of approaches do not show any concrete techniques that are used in the context of
digital leadership.
The different approaches are not yet adapted to the current situation (pandemic) and
have not captured and incorporated the needs and experiences of the last two years with
respect to the B2B sector. Hence, we conducted interviews in B2B companies to ask
about the requirements for digital leadership and experiences as well as developments
over the last two years. The following chapter delves into this in more detail.
5 Insights from the Digital Leadership Interviews
In this chapter, we will take a closer look at the company interviews from the B2B sector.
We will examine whether digital leadership is being used, how leadership behavior has
changed over the past two years, and what requirements there are for the future.
Previous Situation
Based on the interviews and transcripts, we consider the following statements regarding
the question: “Did digital leadership exist in your company before the pandemic?
Already integrated
“Yes, communication via digital channels from the very beginning, as work is done
from different locations …” (E1)
“Exists already for a long time ” (E7)
“Yes, there was digital leadership even before the pandemic in our company” (E8)
Partially integrated
different, depending on department and area; home office rather rare” (E2)
“There was already a home office day; meetings also about teams; on leadership
specifically: almost everything only in person” (E4)
“Yes, everything that came through Corona already existed, just not as professionally
and not in the current intensity …” (E5)
Less integrated
“… only very little, but no home office” (E3)
“Rather less; Skype was used occasionally; home office was not desired; leadership
only in person …” (E6)
The following conclusions were drawn from the content of these interview state-
ments. Two years ago, digital leadership was a serious issue only at some of the inter-
viewed companies. Overall, 15% of the companies dealt rather less with digital leader-
ship, 37.5% of the companies partially addressed it, and 37.5% of the companies had
already integrated it from several aspects. The interviews also revealed that 50% of the
companies view digital leadership in connection with home office or mobile working.
However, the other half of the companies already have a stronger understanding of digital
leadership. It can be observed here that these are mostly IT-related companies.
Current Situation
Next, we considered statements in response to the following question: “Has digital lead-
ership changed in your company in the last two years (e.g. pandemic-related), and if so,
“Pandemic has increased self-evidence” (E1)
“Yes, with more home office options and adaptations by IT for mobile working”
“Yes, … own VPN interface was set up; more laptops in the company; mobile work-
ing is now possible” (E3)
“In the meantime, you can also work from home without any problems; VPN con-
nections have been set up …” (E4)
Yes, communication has been 100% virtual depending on the phase of the pandem-
ic and new meeting formats were added …” (E5)
“Through Corona, increased collaboration via Microsoft Teams; people sometimes
only worked from home and still had good accessibility; leadership was also man-
ageable this way” (E6)
“More video conferences; but Corona did not have much influence would have
been the same way even without Corona” (E7)
“Many meetings digital instead of in person … fast adjustment became possible”
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The last two years have seen a boost in digital leadership at all the companies inter-
viewed. The focus was primarily on two topics: the expansion of technology for digital
working, and people. Technology was expanded to the extent that access to various soft-
ware and systems was made more flexible for employees. In addition, virtual communi-
cation platforms, intranets, and elearning platforms were expanded. Regard the human
factor, areas such as the digital flow of information and communication were re-
examined and expanded through various measures (e.g. virtual coffee breaks, short and
fixed meetings, and goal definitions). This conclusion also came from the responses
shown below.
The interviewees were then asked about their experiences with digital leadership. Both
the positive and negative sides were discussed. Table 2 shows the different experiences.
Table 2 Experiences with Digital Leadership
uncomplicated communication (E2,
fast dialog (E6, E7)
short distances for coordination
higher frequency of participation
with larger teams (E8)
no need to have your own office /
desk in the company (E4, E6)
trying out new digital tools (E2,
more flexible, practical ways of
working (home office, mobile
working) (E2, E6, E7)
sustainability (savings on travel
costs, resources) (E1, E5)
better time management (E4, E5,
private proximity (E5)
more concentrated work possible
travel times are saved (E5)
faster internet than in the office
technical obstacles are eliminated
isolation, loneliness (E1, E2, E6)
personal topics and application
topics better in the company (E4,
often one-sided information
transfer in larger teams - no dis-
cussion (E8)
gestures and expressions are part-
ly missing (E4, E8)
meetings not more efficient than
in the company (E8)
contact with other departments
and teams becomes less / falls
away (E2, E3, E4)
privacy and work become less
separated (E5)
interpersonal is missing (E2, E4)
leadership takes place far away
from people (E3)
exchange of information is miss-
ing (E4)
Future Vision
Finally, we considered the statements of interviewees in response to this question: “What
could future models in your company look like in connection with digital leadership?”
“… no longer pay employees according to time, but according to target achievement
” (E1)
Leadership can also be split; leadership strength could merge into roles, depend-
ing on personal strengths - leadership in the team will grow stronger and hierarchy
levels will shrink together” (E2)
… we will consider more about digital solutions; digital communication; sustaina-
bility” (E3)
“… more flexible working models and new software” (E4)
Pandemic has shown what it means to be adaptive/agile maybe new formats will
be integrated and others will fall away, hard to predict. Virtuality will continue to be
an issue; presence, on the other hand, will get a stronger awareness still many
open questions” (E5)
Pick up older generation even more; offer training courses and make digital work
more attractive ” (E6)
New offices will be built, only for 60% of the employees will a workplace be avail-
able. Target systems become transparent; everyone can see what they have to do -
100% outcome-driven; little hierarchy - lots of communication; everyone should
work intrinsically motivated …” (E7)
Differentiation between production and administration field - task orientation, time
does not matter …” (E8)
All eight interviewees would like to continue driving forward the topic of digital
leadership in the future. They also indicated what they consider to be important for this.
In summary, the following terms came up: flexibility, working time models, sustainabil-
ity, communication and information, software and hardware, agility, process change,
social skills, team leadership, workplace and premises, goal definition, resource efficien-
cy, responsibility, self-leadership, trust, feedback, and flat hierarchies.
There is clear development in the B2B sector in the area of digital leadership. The pan-
demic has clearly brought momentum to the digitalization of companies, and the plans for
the future show that the desire for change in the working world has arrived. However,
what is needed here is a practicable approach and a common understanding of digital
leadership in the B2B areawhich can be adapted individually to each company in its
own way.
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6 Contributions
The research contributes an initial analysis of existing approaches that can be used for
application in B2B, but does not provide a holistic view of digital leadership at all levels
and areas of digitalization. The study includes a summary of interviews with companies
in the B2B sector about digital leadership. This revealed that there is a common under-
standing of digital leadership, but that it is still lacking depth in some companies. It is
important to deal with the areas of technology and people, and to not disregard infor-
mation and communication. This study provides initial findings on an existing research
gap as well as insights for developing an approach to digital leadership in B2B.
7 Practical Implications
Managers and business practitioners benefit from the insights on digital leadership, which
encompasses multiple levels of digitalization. The insights enable companies to exploit
their digital potential. By deriving measures for digitalization, companies are able to
optimize their current situation and create a significant competitive advantage.
8 Limitations
This paper aimed to continue our existing research on digital leadership and report our
initial findings. We see the following limitations to this paper. Readers need to be aware
that the results presented may not be generalizable due to theoretical limitations and a
lack of primary data sources. In addition, the principles outlined and the research meth-
odology proposed require further investigation.
9 Recommendations for Further Research
Further and more in-depth research on the initial approaches would be worthwhile. Prac-
titioners should be even more involved in further research. Developing a new approach in
the context of B2B and testing that approach would be a next step. It would be interesting
to create a generally accessible and anonymized database or knowledge-building com-
munity to be able to analyze which basic approaches and steps are relevant and the extent
to which an in-depth analysis is applicable. Furthermore, it would be interesting to align
digital leadership with the different levels and areas of digitalization. Digital leadership
affects digitalization in an overarching way. A new approach should therefore also enrich
practice at all levels.
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Appendix 1. Guide for the semi-structured interviews
Actual status in the context of digital leadership
1. Is digital leadership an issue or implemented in your company and, if so, how
(e.g. organizational role; responsibilities)?
2. Did digital leadership exist in your company before the pandemic?
3. Has digital leadership changed in your company in the last two years
(e.g. pandemic-related), and if so, how?
4. Have you or your company begun or carried out initiatives and projects in the
context of digital leadership during the last two years and, if so, which?
5. Which experiences have you had so far in the context of digital leadership
6. How do you lead your employees?
7. What could future models in your company look like in connection with digital
8. What tools does your company use in connection with digital leadership?
9. Is there anything else you would like to add?
... Digital transformation in the business services sector (BSS) is not intensively researched (Bryson & Gardner, 2020;Rehse, Hoffmann, & Kosanke, 2016). Nevertheless, new technologies strongly affect business services like finance and accounting, procurement, or HR operations (Edlich, Watson, & Whiteman, 2017). These services primarily employ white-collar workers formerly thought to be less exposed to robotization. ...
... The lowest level, labeled as digitization, refers to the process of converting analog streams of information to digital bits, while the second level, digitalization, refers to the use of digital technology and digitized information that alters existing business processes (Reis, Amorim, Melão, Cohen, & Rodrigues, 2020;Verhoef et al., 2019). At the third level, automation permits the decrease of human interactions required for process completion, even in the form of robotization that resembles and replicates human operations (Edlich et al., 2017;Schumacher, Sihn, & Erol, 2016;Syed et al., 2020). Marciniak et al. (2019) argue that the fourth level of the pyramid could be deployed with each level independently, as shown in Figure 1. ...
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