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In the digital age, leaders need to be comfortable with constant change and evolution. The right combination of mobile, social, cloud and big data technologies allows forward-thinking businesses to transform their strategies and services rapidly.

Amazon started as an online bookstore just 20 years ago but successfully moved into all areas of retail, towards the production of consumer electronics and most unexpectedly of all, perhaps, enterprise-grade cloud computing.

When Amazon started in a garage 20 years ago, Apple was a seller of niche computers. Two decades later and the world’s most valuable company is the market leader in smart phones, tablet devices and wearable technology.

In both companies, strong leadership – Jeff Bezos at Amazon and Steve Jobs at Apple – was a telling factor. A successful digital business is only as good as the executive chosen to lead the transformation. While Amazon and Apple might be outliers in terms of their growth trajectories, the same principles are true for all organisations, from blue chip enterprises to small and medium-sized businesses.

Operations in every sector are being changed by the innovative use of digital technology. Such systems and services do not exist in some kind of bubble; to really drive permanent change, organisations must have a leader who recognises the power of technology and who is able to put plans into action.

While they might be working for more traditional organisations, great digital leaders share many characteristics with Bezos and Jobs. The most successful executives are engaged and work alongside internal peers and external experts to consider how calculated risks can provide a competitive edge.

Such executives understand the importance of working across organisational concerns and spend time thinking about how technology can enable new ways of working. Digital affects every area of a business, from marketing, advertising, sales channels and even HR, communications and finance. Therefore it’s essential that a digital executive spends as much time engaging with people as they do the bits and bytes of IT.

The common thread linking all digital leaders is a preparedness to encourage new thinking and in turn, implement new initiatives. These executives always keep one eye on established organisational objectives, yet they also listen to people and use their intelligence to understand when an innovation might produce great results, or lead to a risk that really isn’t worth taking.

While your business might not be lucky enough to be run by a Bezos or a Jobs, it will have people who are capable of using their knowledge to help your organisation think differently.

Great digital leaders know how to tap into a diverse ecosystem of highly skilled individuals. And in the digital age, the executive who can harness that difference and create a competitive advantage is critical to success.