If you've ever wondered what truly worries today's C-level executives, look no further than the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, a massive study produced as a collaboration between DDI, The Conference Board, and EY. The research integrates data from 25,812 leaders and 2,547 HR professionals across 2,488 organizations from 54 countries and 26 major industry sectors.

Drilling down to what keeps them up at night, more than 1,000 executives worldwide identified the issues they expect to command their attention in the coming year. The biggest challenge found? It's developing, attracting, and retaining "next gen" leaders faced with the immense responsibility of staying competitive as the digital disruption continues to transform the workplace.

With robotics and artificial intelligence projected to affect two billion jobs over the next decade, organizations that have identified and developed digitally-savvy leaders are in a great place to significantly outperform their less digitally capable counterparts -- the "laggards."

6 critical skills for leaders to thrive in the digital age

According to the report, the focus for developing digitally savvy leaders should fall in the following six competency areas. These digital capabilities have the greatest impact on performance, states the report.

1. Lead with digitization.

Digitally savvy leaders sense what is and isn't possible and, more important, sense what will be possible. They look to standardize and automate processes to generate new insights they can leverage for differentiated capabilities. 

2. Adaptability.

Digitally savvy leaders embrace digital disruption by anticipating and adapting to constant change because if they don't, they know they'll fall behind. They actively manage their own growth and development and are more likely to take on stretch assignments to build new skills. They're also more likely to provide input to grow the business and seek it from others to grow themselves.

3. Drive execution.

Digital savvy leaders not only anticipate change, but they possess the ability to successfully execute by turning new ideas into reality. 

4. Hyper collaboration.

Digital savvy leaders work relentlessly to break down silos and bring people to work together to solve customers' and the organization's issues.

5. Identify and develop new talent.

Digital savvy leaders will spot and rapidly bring on board the digitally savvy talent of tomorrow.

6. A 360 view.

Digitally savvy leaders have the ability to spot patterns and bring thinking together from multiple perspectives. This was one of two real weaknesses (along with "Lead with digitization") for most leaders.

Final take-aways

As I dissected this report further, a few other leadership mega-trends that emerged from the data really got my attention. Some of these may be eye-openers as your company's leaders consider shifting to a more digitally-robust workforce.

  • More females should be placed into leadership roles.

According to demographic data gleaned from more than 2,400 organizations around the globe, it was found that companies with more women in leadership roles across the board are 1.4 times more likely to have sustained, profitable growth, and are better prepared to handle digital disruption. The report states, "Leaders from more gender-diverse companies were twice as likely as their low-diversity counterparts to report that their leaders work together to create new solutions and opportunities, and that multiple perspectives determine success."

  • Purpose-driven cultures are better.

Peter Drucker famously quipped, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Well, companies with strong work cultures came up in the study as outperforming the market by 42 percent. As "caretakers of the culture," such leaders build cultural cornerstones like a clearly communicated purpose, peer coaching, experimentation, psychological safety, and embracing diverse relationships across generational lines

  • Leaders share their leadership.

Ever worked for a leader with the mindset of, "I'll do it myself because I'll do it right?" That is the path to leadership failure nowadays. The data showed evidence that today's leaders increasingly work in shared leadership settings and allow others to make decisions. Given the chaotic and fast-changing business environment, "having leaders at all levels of the
organization (not just those at the very top) coaching each other can provide greater agility to solve problems across the enterprise," states the report.

  • Millennials are on equal par with older generations.

Given that Millennials grew up with technology, one would think digital savviness would be second nature for them. However, they need as much additional training as Gen X and Baby Boomers to really excel at leading in the digital space. In fact, according to data from more than 25,000 leaders, ratings from Gen X show "they are just as confident in their digital leadership capability as Millennials." Additionally, while they rated themselves as slightly more effective at digital literacy and leading with digitization skills, "Millennials are less confident in their effectiveness at leading virtual teams, perhaps because they lack overall experience in leading teams," states the report.