The Digital Leader: Assessing leadership competence in the digital world-of-work

Recently, TTS assessment partner, Aon Assessment Services conducted a survey of global companies regarding their views on the digital future of work and talent. The majority of the companies surveyed responded that they were struggling with their digital transformation journeys, mostly because they lacked the necessary digital and leadership capabilities.

In fact, only 35% of the organizations surveyed responded that they already had the right capacities on-board for the digital challenges they were likely to face into the future.

But talent acquisition alone will not be enough. Organizations also need to develop their own, internal digitally-capable leadership. Of the companies surveyed, Aon found that the most mature digital companies were four times as likely to have extensive internal development programs in place for cultivating digital leaders.

In today’s article, we review not only the impetus for developing digital leaders, but also showcase a scientifically robust assessment solution that can help your organization select and develop digitally-capable leaders.

Why are digital leaders required?

In today’s world-of-work leaders have to deal with more complexity than ever before. The work environment has become more remote, more digitally enabled, and rapid. Due to faster product innovation cycles and an ever-growing ecosystem of partner companies, leaders are increasingly put under pressure to simplify the complexities of the digital environment for their teams.

Given these challenges, competent leaders will need to succeed at:

  • Encouraging their employees to harness technology for competitive advantage.
  • Innovating and collaborating in new ways
  • Fulfilling the role of a facilitator for their teams
  • Acting as agents of change and producing a multiplying effect across their areas of responsibility.

The Aon Digital Leadership model

Based on surveys like those discussed above, Aon assessments have constructed an assessment-based model of the digital leader.

It rests upon three main pillars of competencies:

  1. An Agile Mindset
  2. Leading Change
  3. Driving Business

These three pillars contain 12 measurable competencies that predict success as a digital leader.

They are:

Agile Mindset:

  • Learnability
  • Agility
  • Curiosity

Leading Change:

  • Drive to Lead
  • Championing Collaboration
  • Humility
  • Empowerment

Driving Business:

  • Handling Data
  • Strategic Solutioning
  • Business Acumen
  • Digital Communication
  • Mental Endurance

Of course, any model needs to be tested against reality, and it is to that topic we now turn.

Validation of the Digital Leader model

Competent digital leaders will need to master a series of competencies associated with the challenges we discussed above.

Aon assessments conducted extensive research on the competencies required for successful digital leadership in several meta-analytical studies that included their groundbreaking ADEPT-15 behavioral measure.

In nine different studies of participants in leadership roles (i.e. first line supervisors, middle managers, senior executives), Aon’s researchers compared supervisory performance ratings with ADEPT-15 competencies associated with digital leadership.

The studies showed robust relationships between performance and the three pillars of digital leadership in the Aon leadership model.

In fact, high scorers in the Agile Mindset pillar of competencies were 33% more likely to be rated high in Problem Solving and 31% more likely to be rated favourably in Behaving Flexibly by their managers.

In a similar vein, high scorers in the Leading Change competencies were 36% more likely to be rated as high in Self-Developing and 21% more likely to be rated as high in Continuous Improvement by their managers.

Finally, high scorers in Driving Business competencies were 23% more likely to be rated as high in Taking Ownership and 28% more likely to be rated favourably in Developing Business Opportunities than their peers.

Research is ongoing throughout the globe on the Digital Leader model and TTS will be spearheading validation studies in local businesses shortly.

Assessing for Digital Leadership

Assessing for competencies associated with successful digital leadership comprises four activities:

  1. Completing the ADEPT-15 work-related behaviour measure.
  2. Assessing cognitive functioning using Aon’s (formerly cut-e) gamified ability assessments, from the smartPredict range of assessments.
  3. Completing a virtual assessment centre exercise: The WorkBurrow business activity, a simulated virtual business case study.
  4. Completing an optional structured virtual interview.

All of the preceding assessments (with the exception of the optional virtual interview) contribute to the eventual competency scores of the individual on the 11 digital leader competencies.

In addition, two competencies that are not part of the model are also measured:

  • Cultural Awareness
  • Situational Leadership

Also, cognitive functioning, a critical factor in all leadership models, is also included through the smartPredict assessment.

If all four assessment tasks are selected, the participant’s entire time spend is usually no more than two hours.

Final thoughts

In a changing business environment where a global, remote-working talent pool may be drawn upon, IOPs have a complex challenge when advising the organizations they serve about leadership.

Modern digital leaders have equally unique challenges to face. An ever-changing, highly dynamic environment that puts pressure on employees to adapt quickly and nimbly. Without the correct selection or development programmes, leaders (and their organizations) may be vulnerable to competitors who have invested in developing digital leadership competencies.  

In the Aon Digital Leader solution, we believe we have found a credible, scientifically defensible method of not only assessing for digital leadership competencies, but also of using such data to help our clients develop those competencies within their existing leadership pool.

If you are interested in how the digital leader model might help your organization be prepared for the future, why not drop us a line at