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“Digital transformation is more of a leadership challenge than a technical one,” according to MIT Sloan senior lecturer and research scientist George Westerman.

More than ever organizations need leaders who help their teams navigate the shift to a more digital workplace. Along with the greater need for leadership, the type of leadership that is best suited to guide teams through transformation processes is changing as well.

The demand for a new type of leadership presents an opportunity for women to become the change agent in the organization and move into more senior leadership positions. In the past year, I interviewed a number of female senior managers in enterprise cloud computing at SAP on their career path and how they mentor the next generation of leaders. We also discussed what traits define a good leader.


In all conversations, the importance of authenticity was on top of mind. But being authentic can be challenging. It requires abandoning preconceived norms about how leaders should act and express themselves. “Women sometimes fail, as they think that certain behavioral traits are a prerequisite for success. But those traditional leadership traits weren’t theirs, and as such, they were not authentic,” so Caroline Hanke, head of the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud Customer Office.

Achieving an authentic leadership style is critical to building credibility, and ultimately, to becoming a trusted leader. It’s the spark that inspires the team to follow your vision and path through a changing market place.


Part of being an authentic leader is to give and listen to feedback. Giving honest feedback on goals and opportunities leads to accountability. “To drive change and professional growth leaders need to give honest feedback to team members. The feedback needs to be actionable and provide team members specific guidance on how they can become more effective and grow their skills — and career,” said Uma Rani Senior Vice President at SAP, and co-lead of the Global Maintenance and Support team for SAP On-Premise Applications. Uma was the first woman to get appointed to the SAP Global Senior Leadership Team in India.

Leaders who consistently ask and reflect upon feedback are more effective than leaders who don’t, according to a study by leadership development consultancy Zenger Folkman published in Harvard Business Review. Their survey among over 50,000 executives showed that leaders who ranked at the top 10 percent in asking for feedback were rated, on average, at the 86th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness. Based on their research, the ability to give honest feedback in a helpful way is also closely aligned with employee engagement.

Inspiring an Open Mindset

In every conversation I had with female leaders in the past year, the importance of inspiring an open mindset was a key priority. With innovation being the growth motor and protective armor for companies to stay competitive, nurturing innovation among the team is critical.

Creating more diverse and inclusive teams spurs creativity and innovation. “We have to focus on everyone’s unique ability, as opposed to perceived limitations. Every person’s skill set and viewpoint is unique. Together we can bring a broad spectrum of perspectives and skills to the company. It’s what makes us see new possibilities and stay innovative, “said Baerbel Haenelt, manager in development at SAP Application Innovation Services (AIS).

Good leaders are also curious and inspire life-long learning. “Never stop learning. Learning, unlearning, and relearning is inevitable in our ever-changing world,” said Sueli Nascimento, a Local Product Manager in SAP Globalization Services in São Paulo, Brazil.

When keeping an open mind, inspiration can come from anywhere. Growing up, Anguelina Vatcheva, a Senior Developer at Application Innovation Services (AIS), spent hours reading about future technologies, such as robots and autonomous vehicles, when these technologies were dreams and visions. The possibilities inspired her to pursue a career in technology — and now to inspire others to lead digital transformation at work.

Leading change not only requires authenticity, accountability, and inclusiveness, it also calls for new shared ownership to reach team and organizational goals.

You have to ‘walk the talk’ to take others on the journey with you.