The Five Key Traits of a Leader in the Digital World

At a recent conference, I had someone ask me “What does it take to be a leader in a digital world?”. I paused for a few minutes to gather the thoughts and spontaneously listed the 5 “C”s listed below:


Curious is that intensity to learn and gain a wide-array of knowledge in a variety of subjects. This intense curiosity led Steve Jobs to learn calligraphy and later apply that to produce all the fonts that made Apple computers so popular. The same curiosity led him to look beyond computers to understand how the Entertainment, Telecommunication, and other Industries work. He then used that to create a device that acted as a platform disrupting those very industries. Somewhere during this transformation, Steve Jobs was let go off Apple but his curiosity led him to Pixar, Next, and learn from the failure first time around. Upon return to Apple, Steve Jobs remained razor sharp focused on products while still being curious. He even signed off saying “Stay Hungry! Stay Foolish”.

Ability to learn about anything and everything without bias is a key trait.


Calligraphy and Computers are two different ecosystems. Entertainment, Telecommunications, Computers, and Devices are very different industries. One of the many things that differentiated Steve Jobs was his ability to make these brilliant connections. Years later Travis Kalanick and his Uber would connect social network within the context of a Taxi industry and envision it as a Supply Chain rather than a transportation issue. Yet again a brilliant connection. Almost every disruptor in the digital era has made such brilliant connections.

Ability to Connect and disrupt at the intersection of these ecosystems is a key trait.


Challenging status quo is kind of a corporate buzz word. It is typically used to indicate the need to bust a long-standing bureaucracy and a potential helplessness around it. However, in the digital era, this buzz word is actually a real need. Individuals and Companies that create a climate to challenge status quo will thrive. Travis Kalanick is challenging his way into a long-standing establishment like the Taxi industry.  When you disrupt something more unseen challenges like definition of employees (W2 vs. 1099 in US) come into play.

Ability to Challenge norms that come along the way and demonstrating resilience is another key trait.


Change doesn’t happen just because and everyone don’t adopt or adapt to change just because – it takes years. Elon Musk envisioned a Car that was heavily Software dependent, Mark Zuckerberg envisioned what human connections mean in digital world, and Sergei Brin/Larry Page at Google reversed an assumption that a Car needs to be driven. Catalyst is someone who increases/changes the world around them while retaining their original identity. Mark, Elon, Sergei, Larry are all examples of leaders who demonstrate that trait.

Ability to be a Catalyst there by change a norm is yet another key trait.


A Courageous Leader is someone who believes in purpose with passion, can confront multiple realities and hardships head on but yet continue to make smart decisions to accept failures or persevere a path. In doing so, a Courageous leader builds people loyalty and brings them along in times of good and bad. Almost every leader who is been successful has ventured into unchartered territories. For example, Jeff Bezos started with an online bookstore and had the courage to venture into a totally non-existent market called “Cloud” and pioneer a business domain.

Being Courageous is a leadership trait (period) in any world.

In Conclusion, the power of the above 5C’s capture the spirit of being a continual learner, connect those learning to challenge status quo and demonstrate courage and a catalyst like spirit to disrupt the world.

What do you think are other traits that make for a digital leader? Let us know your thoughts via the comments below.

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