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Traits of Successful IT Leadership in Transition

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March 23, 2015
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“We Educate Leaders Who Make a Difference in the World.”

That simple phrase is the mission of the Harvard Business School. It begs the question: are these people born to leadership or educated to become leaders?

For those of us who lack the inherent genes, aspiring to acquire leadership traits and skills can be a life-long pursuit. We’ve all seen books that examine the commonalities among business leaders, a sort of recipe for remaking one’s self in their image.  It can be hard work when it doesn’t come naturally.

Think about what constitutes an IT leader today. The job description of a leadership position 15 years ago would be significantly different from one today. Beyond the managerial and interpersonal skills that all leaders need, business acumen and entrepreneurial temperament have supplanted comprehensive technical knowledge as priorities, be it at the level of manager, director or higher. However, being business savvy without the “people” skills will still result in an imbalance.

We’re certainly not experts in the field of IT leadership development; we leave that to institutions of higher learning and the seemingly endless stream of book authors who purport to present fresh perspectives on the subject, some more successfully than others. However, as a company at the forefront of IT infrastructure and cloud computing — services which are assuming a priority role in IT/ business transformation — we, too, see an evolution of leadership qualities shared by our most successful clients.

They represent their organizational leadership.

Our best clients can explain IT requirements in terms of their organization’s strategies, business goals and the obstacles that must be overcome. They bring the collective interests of their peers into the discussion, be it marketing, legal, HR, sales, distribution, etc. They’re thinking near-term and planning long-term and want trusted partners upon whom they can rely and constructively work with today and tomorrow.

They run toward the fire, not away from it.

Many CIOs and IT execs have been blindsided by IT mega trends and the rapid rise in business influence on their operations. In fact, never before has IT not been their exclusive operational domain. Some have taken a defensive posture in an attempt to protect their turf. Not the successful ones, however. IT leaders that come to providers like us in search of business solutions, as opposed to technology services, have a definitive leg up in their industries. They view IT and IT services as tools to power their organization’s success, and they expect the craftsmen to construct answers to their challenges.

They know what they don’t know.

It’s a challenge even for the experts to keep pace with rapid-fire technology and product advancements in their own slice of the IT/business transformation pie, never mind trying to know everything about security, compliance, networking, hybrid cloud models, storage, interoperability and so on.  One of the big advantages for CIOs who shun the NIH (not invented here) bias to work with carefully vetted IT service providers is that they don’t have to worry over such things.  They have someone to watch their backs while they devote time to creating new revenue streams and developing new programs and markets through IT.

They focus on customers.

This may be the biggest mindset shift of all for today’s IT leadership – thinking outside the data center. Without this, the other qualities really don’t matter much. In the Age of the Customer, which is inextricably tied to the IT megatrends and technology consumerization, an IT organization that overlooks customer preferences for information gathering, company and products evaluations, purchasing tendencies and unfettered access is working for its competitors more than for its own company.

They embrace the risk/reward equation.

Reducing cost and improving productivity, while still important, are not enough in the world of IT. Assuming an element of risk has historically been an anathema to those with IT responsibilities; uncertainty is bad. But, there really isn’t a self-contained world of IT any longer. IT is in the business mainstream, a linchpin in a business’s continuing success, a facilitator of relationships with critical constituents across the business landscape where there is no such thing as certainty, only probabilities.

They deconstruct and reconstruct their organizations.

IT skills in many organizations are out of step with the needs of the emerging IT/business technology paradigm. New IT leadership recognizes that business analytics, data science, supplier management, communications, work team dynamics and other non-day-to-day skill sets are equally important to their IT departments and organizations as technical abilities, and growing more so. This can be a difficult challenge, possibly involving the elimination of people that IT managers have worked with a long time and know well, but who may not be candidates for retraining.

Not to beat a dead horse, but change is hard at any level. Leaders typically see only opportunities, while laggards see threats.  Regardless of which side of that dichotomy one finds him/herself, we’re in the midst of change on the scale of the Industrial Revolution. All we can do is seize the moment for all its worth because, at the end of the day, there is nowhere to hide.

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About Peak 10

"Our values are the foundation for everything we do at Peak 10, and are ultimately what enable us to earn our customers' business and their trust."
David H. Jones,
Board Member, Peak 10 + ViaWest