What makes a great IT leader?

In a climate of rapidly advancing technology, effective IT leaders must foster innovation to provide successful solutions across their organizations. 

IT leaders face challenges on several fronts.

First, the rapid pace of change requires a constant focus on new industry developments. Second, they are under increasing pressure to cut costs while optimizing IT performance. Third, they must operate across the organization to solve problems in all departments.

While many leadership traits translate across business units, standing out as an effective IT leader requires a different approach to managing people who tend to take either a product or strategy focus.

Pamela Rucker, chair of the CIO Executive Council’s Executive Women in IT, told technology news website CIO that the fast-paced nature of technology attracts both those who seek a constant engagement with the hottest new tool, and others who shun the new toys to take a more pragmatic focus on business strategy. She says each must be managed differently.

“It’s important for you to know how to manage both types of people and have the right blend of staff members to keep you technologically savvy and business-focused,” she says.

Here’s what you can do to become a great IT leader:

 

Put the right team in place

 

IT covers such a wide range of disciplines that it’s unlikely an IT leader will have extensive experience across all functions. That makes it vital to surround yourself with enthusiastic, ambitious people who complement your strengths and weaknesses. To do that, review your leadership skills and style, and identify any gaps in your experience or knowledge that can be filled by recruiting the right people into your team.

 

That requires a high level of honest self-assessment that does not necessarily come naturally to most people. Work on developing your emotional intelligence and self-awareness to identify your limitations and know where your blind spots are so you can recruit accordingly.

 

Create a strong team culture

 
Even the highest-performing teams need a strong team culture to guide their interactions and keep them engaged. IT is essentially about problem-solving, and to build a team of innovative troubleshooters you need to create an environment where your people feel safe to fail.

It may sound counterintuitive, but if you take the tyrant leader role who punishes even the smallest failures, you’ll likely stifle creativity within your team and your people will revert to textbook thinking rather than seeking innovative solutions.

Maintain a clear focus

 
It’s easy for IT leaders to get stuck in troubleshooting mode and lose focus on the big picture. Pause to reassess your focus and make time to step outside the day-to-day problem-solving to think strategically. IT is a vital growth center for most businesses, and the decisions you make and the technologies you implement will define your leadership.

To ensure your influence is impactful, remember to step outside of the IT function from time to time in order to understand the greater business objectives and customer needs. This will help you come up with more innovative IT solutions to achieve organizational goals.

Think on your feet

IT is an incredibly complex business unit, and IT leaders must be able to think on their feet to solve problems and apply creative solutions. More than any other discipline, IT requires a strong commitment to ongoing professional development that keeps pace with industry trends and developments.

The best IT leaders are flexible, adaptable thinkers who keep an eye on the horizon and refuse to get bogged down in an ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ attitude. Rather, remind yourself that new challenges require new solutions and stay actively engaged with the cutting-edge developments happening across the industry. 

Build your communication skills

All great leaders need excellent communication skills. This is particularly true of IT leaders, who need to communicate with internal stakeholders from across the organization. Developing the ability to translate your technical proficiency into a language that is understood by other business units is key to getting your innovations across the line.

Ensure you clearly articulate the business case for a new IT rollout from various perspectives of the business – not just your own – to secure buy-in from all stakeholders. And don’t be scared of collaboration. Building relationships with colleagues outside the IT department will help you understand the challenges they face and how to solve them from an IT perspective.

While IT managers certainly face a range of challenges, becoming a great IT leader comes down to knowing your people, knowing yourself and knowing how to deliver on greater business objectives.