The Digital Supply Chain Journey: Step 2 – Digital Transformation Leadership!

Digital Transformation Leadership

Getting anything done requires resources and management. Getting change to happen requires that plus leadership, drive and conviction. Getting a digital transformation to take hold takes all of that plus bravery, resolve, unrelenting persistence, risk taking, tenacity and courage.

At the heart of a Digital Supply Chain transformation is Change Leadership. We do not mean Change Management. We do mean Change Leadership and Digital Transformation Leadership!

But to have leadership you have to have leaders. Remarkable leaders. Extraordinary leaders. Whether those people exist or not will make the difference between success or failure of your Digital Supply Chain journey.

Why is Leadership Necessary and Important for a Digital Transformation?

Leadership creates the vision. The vision for the future, the vision for the strategy to get to that future, and the vision for the steps necessary to make that strategy a reality.

Without leadership none of that happens. And this is especially important when that visioning is about creating a dramatically new and different future. Because a dramatically new and different future requires a change in paradigms, cultures, beliefs, processes, investments, resources.

This is further complicated because it is not possible for everyone to completely understand and comprehend the leader’s vision for the future. They are trusting in the leader that their direction is the right direction.

This applies in all circumstances yet it is surely applicable with any digital transformation, including the creation of an entity-wide Digital Supply Chain.

To understand this just think about many of the technologies that we take for granted today.

Smartphones in your pocket with computing power that is greater than what it took to land a man on the moon. Instantaneous access to any information you could want, the ability to FaceTime or to stream any content you want anywhere anytime on any device. Voice activated and recognition devices such as Alexa and Google Mini which can answer any question you may have in real time.

All of these digital technologies and more were, for most of the population, merely science fiction just 10, 20 and 30 years ago. But now they are an integral part of our lives.

This is all enabled not only by those who have created the technologies, but also by the leaders would had the vision of what could be and laid the groundwork to put it all in place.

Conversely there are innumerable inventions and innovations that did not have the sponsorship of a leader. And many of those did not evolve far beyond the drawing table, forgotten in history.

The importance of digital transformation leadership is not restricted to just visioning. Because implementing these fundamental transformations alters paradigms, calls into question sacred cows, and goes against organizational norms, the leader must also be a master at driving through change.

The change leadership role is critical. There are too many forces that will either openly and overtly, or passive aggressively, take all steps necessary to resist the changes or to make sure the changes fail. These negative forces will even act as such despite the fact that the change will be to their benefit. Subversive behaviour, political maneuvering, and outright protesting are all working to prevent any change from succeeding.

A strong leader recognizes all of this resistance. A strong leader must have the courage, the intestinal fortitude, the drive and persistence and the perseverance to push forward.

But change leadership does not mean being a bulldozer and just pushing all obstacles out of the way. True change leadership involves working to constructively address resistance and working to understand people’s concerns and bring them onboard. Many people just want to be listened to and heard, and when the vision and direction is explained they can become your biggest advocates for change.

What Unique Leadership Skills are Needed for a Digital Supply Chain?

Aside from the typical skill sets which define digital transformation leadership, there are unique skills which a leader must have, or must develop, in order to lead the transformation to a Digital Supply Chain.

The Digital Supply Chain has as its core enabling capability the end-to-end electronic connectivity of the entire Supply Chain. This runs from multi-tier suppliers through to all logistics modes and channels, all internal operations such as manufacturing an warehousing, through to the ultimate end consumer, and inclusive of the reverse logistics chain.

As such the Digital Supply Chain touches virtually every aspect of the planning and operation of any business. First and foremost our leaders must have a broad based understanding and command of all functions within an organization. They don’t need to be experts in every area but they do need to be able to tap into the experts in each area.

Second, these leaders must be able to manage holistically. They must be able to scan across all areas and quickly internalize, analyze and act upon all of the information that is presented to them, all for the greater good. The Digital Supply Chain will enable this leadership through the deployment of Control towers that can provide instantaneous views and recommended actions depending on what is happening.

Third, these leaders must have a command for the technologies that are available along with their capabilities and limitations. They don’t have to be experts, because that’s what the I/T and Engineering teams are. But they do have to know enough about how the technologies perform and interact so that they can architect the Digital Supply Chain as they see it.

Fourth, these leaders must be competent risk managers. When the Digital Supply Chain presents you with real time updates on what is going on you need to be able to act fast, decisively, and effectively. These decisions can be risky, so having someone who is risk averse at the helm will not be helpful. This must be complemented by the ability to change those decisions on a dime if need be.

Fifth, these leaders must be agile. They must be able to change direction and adapt quickly as circumstances require. Real time decision making, followed by any requisite real time course corrections, are necessary to ensure that the latest information is being acted upon.

And finally, these leaders must have a command of best practices across industries and across competitors. Even if one is best in class today that does not mean there is not someone else who will displace the complacent leader. Digital transformation leaders must be in the know and looking for ways to continuously improve. Standing still is not an option.


Without strong leadership any digital transformation will fail. Given that the creation of a Digital Supply Chain is the most extensive application of digital technology, Digital Transformation Leadership is mandatory.

The first step involves the vision of a digital future. The second step, which cannot be skipped, is to have in place the Digital Transformation Leadership to make it happen and run it.

Originally published on November 22, 2022.