Digital Transformation Leadership: 5 Essential Competency Areas for Success

Digital transformation is hard work, from developing a strategy to leading a culture change. CIOs, CMOs, and CDOs quickly realize that executing digital transformations requires prioritizing strategic initiatives, assigning team leaders, and establishing the right balance between self-organization and developing standards.

Digital Trailblazer Competency Areas

Having the “right people” and key lieutenants – what I call Digital Trailblazers – is the key to success, especially given how fast industries are evolving and new generative AI technologies create opportunities.  

Digital Trailblazer by Isaac Sacolick

I contemplate what it means to find “the right people” for my leadership team in Chapter 8 of Digital Trailblazer. “Make sure you hire the right people,” is what board members and colleagues would say to me, and I struggled to translate this common and generic advice into a practical game plan.

Digital Trailblazers: Confident, diverse leaders with many skills

One important aspect of hiring the “right people” is driving a culture with diverse leaders and empathetic teams. “Hiring and nurturing diverse teams, creating an inclusive culture, and driving empathy are ongoing needs and essential to transformations,” I wrote.

I wanted to go deeper in defining the “right people” and decided to expand my understanding at a recent Coffee with Digital Trailblazers, a LinkedIn audio event I host on Fridays at 11am ET. I asked speakers, “Who are the right people to lead digital transformation initiatives,” and to suggest one or two words that best describe a Digital Trailblazer.

I’m sorry to say I don’t have a recording of the event as LinkedIn doesn’t provide them to LinkedIn Audio Event organizers. The event is open for anyone to attend, and we’re nearing our 50th collaboration episode. Do join us!

Join the community of StarCIO Digital Trailblazers

Better than a recording - I gathered the event’s contributors, and collectively, we captured 50 attributes of Digital Trailblazers. Thank you, Joanne Friedman, Joseph Puglisi, Kit Johnson, Martin Davis (CIO), Ashish Parulekar, Martha Lewis, Tyler James Johnson, Alma Kondili, and Heather May!

I’m not quite ready to share the 50 attributes as I am still working on ways to present them without overwhelming everyone. For example, I doubt anyone truly exemplifies all 50 attributes, and I believe some are more important than others, depending on business objectives, culture, and other factors.

The five key competency areas of Digital Trailblazers

But here’s what I can share today. First, I’ll be releasing several videos with leaders selecting the attributes they feel are most important. If you want to know my selections, watch the Driving Digital Standup video below. 

Second, I grouped the Digital Trailblazer attributes into five categories – or what I think competency areas is a better term. 

  • Leadership – Corresponding to how you might answer a question on leadership style, qualities, or practices.
  • Personal Competencies – Identifying the personality skills, knowledge, and behaviors common to Digital Trailblazers.
  • People Skills – Listing a Digital Trailblazer’s approaches and practices when collaborating with teams, partnering with other leaders, and supporting individuals.
  • Digital – Recognizing the type of skills Digital Trailblazers rely on to translate opportunities into solutions and deliver outcomes.
  • Transformation – Specifying the types of practices a Digital Trailblazer will likely apply to challenge the status quo, grow supporters, handle detractors, and lead change management practices. 

I am using a liberal license on the term competency areas because when you see the list of fifty attributes, some are competencies, others are skills, and some are proficiencies.

I hope you’ll watch the video, and please subscribe to the Driving Digital Standup to be notified of when  I release interviews with the other contributors. You can receive early access to the 50 attributes as a Driving Digital Newsletter subscriber (free), and I’ll review the list at a future Coffee with Digital Trailblazers episode.

Coffee with Digital Trailblazers hosted by Isaac Sacolick Digital Trailblazers!  Join us Fridays at 11am ET for a live audio discussion on digital transformation topics:  innovation, product management, agile, DevOps, data governance, and more!

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.