Sunday, May 20, 2018

Digital Leadership is Not Optional

Leadership has less to do with position than it does disposition.” – John Maxwell

A great deal has changed since Digital Leadership was published in 2014, which is why I undertook the task of updating the original version (you can get the new edition HERE).  For starters, I have now been going on four years since transitioning from the high school principal to Senior Fellow with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE).  Society is now in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which was in its infancy as I began writing this book.  Personalized and blended learning pathways were proclaimed to be the future of education. More and more schools have gone 1:1 thanks to the cost-effectiveness of the Chromebook and cloud-based tools.  Makerspaces have moved from fringe initiatives to vibrant components of school culture.  Emerging technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, open education resources (OER), coding, and adaptive learning tools are moving more into the mainstream in some schools.  Twitter chats have increased from a handful to now hundreds happening on a weekly basis.  

What I have described above only accounts for a small subset of the changes we have seen since 2014. Change isn’t coming; it is already on our doorstep and about to knock down the front door.  The need for digital leadership now is more urgent than a few years ago.  Our learners will need to thrive and survive in a world that is almost impossible to predict thanks to exponential advances in technology.  Automation and robotics are already disrupting the world of work, as we know it.  The Internet of Things (IoT) impacts virtually all of us. Have you heard of it? Perhaps not, but once you know what it is you can see how it connects to your life. Wikipedia defines IoT as a network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data. How are we preparing learners for this world? How are we adapting and evolving? 

Expectations are also changing in a knowledge and information-based society where information can easily be accessed from virtually anywhere.  The World Wide Web has transformed how we access, consume, create, and share information.  From a growth perspective, the Personal Learning Network (PLN) concept has dramatically impacted countless educators across the globe. People crave more than a drive-by event, traditional school professional development day, or mandated training that does not have an authentic outlet that caters to their interests.  As educators lust for knowledge, parents and other stakeholders desire more information about schools and how the needs of learners are being met.  Engagement using a multifaceted, two-way approach seems to be a no-brainer at a time when email has lost some luster.  Providing pertinent information in a timely fashion helps to build powerful relationships and is a more substantial component of working smarter, not harder.

There is so much more than I can say, but to sum it all up digital leadership in our classrooms, schools, districts, and organizations is needed now more than ever.  Research has shown how crucial digital leadership is for organizations.  Here is a little bit that Josh Bersin shared in an article titled Digital Leadership is Not an Optional Part of Being a CEO:
Culture is key. Success is mostly dependent on people sharing information with each other, partnering, and continuously educating themselves. This can happen when you build a collective, transparent, and profoundly shared culture. CEOs who are digital leaders are continuously reinforcing the culture, communicating values, and aligning people around the culture whenever something goes wrong.
The importance outlined above extends well beyond the private sector and into the field of education.  As times change, so must the practice of leaders to establish a culture of learning that is relevant, research-based, and rooted in relationships.  Digital leadership is all about people and how their collective actions aligned with new thinking, ideas, and tools can help to build cultures primed for success.  

Definitions of digital leadership vary and have pretty much become a semantic issue.  Leadership is leadership ladies and gentlemen. The same general tenets that embody all great leaders we have come to respect and admire over time still apply. With this being said, I am slightly biased towards my definition created years ago that aligns well with Josh Bersin’s thinking.
Digital leadership is a strategic mindset and set of behaviors that leverage resources to create a meaningful, transparent, and engaging school culture.
The digital before leadership implies how mindsets and behaviors must change to harness current and emerging resources to set the stage for improving outcomes and professional practice.  The Pillars of Digital Leadership provide a focus that can move us from talk to implementation and eventually evidence of improved outcomes.  These guiding elements are embedded throughout all school cultures, which compel us in many cases to do what we already do better.  In the updated edition I flesh out each of these pillars more than I did the first time while also including many more strategies to aid in practical implementation. As for other significant inclusions, efficacy is now a substantial component of this edition as it was reasonably absent the first go around. 

Are you up to the challenge? Join the conversation on social media using #digilead.


  1. how to get the school we want. the one focused on personal learning, not focused on grades (nor HW, nor too many content standards). learning how to learn, how to think, how to solve the "big" problems of the community/world. Maker. PBL. Community Service. Have you read "Inevitable : Mass Customized Learning" ?

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights on this topic - teaching digital leadership and conduct is one of the most important things we can give to students, they will be spending a good portion of their professional and personal lives on the internet so it is vital that they have the tools to nagivate these platforms effectively and responsibly.

  3. Thank you for your leadership Eric! As a CIIO and former principal, I recommend a deep dive into your definition of "strategic mindset and set of behaviors that leverage resources to create a meaningful, transparent, and engaging school culture". My current quest is to help every principal in my district understand that Digital Leadership is not just my responsibility, but theirs. I can't possible hit the 7 pillars of Digital Leadership at their sites. I have modeled the practices and have spent time talking to them about it. However, this is a big shift for principals. I believe too many of them still see this a the job of the director of technology or the CIO. We need to help change their mindset before they can be strategic in their mindset. Just my thoughts and I deeply value and appreciate the work you do!! Looking forward to the new edition.