3 Must-Have Skills for IT Leaders
Go pick up a book on leadership. Most likely it’s not going to be about leading a team of highly intelligent, independent, technical minds. Instead, it will probably talk about bringing together different personalities, aligning groups towards a common goal or the people side of leading.
That’s all good information! You have to admit, though, there are some inherent challenges that IT leaders face that other leaders just… don’t.
Every leader will, at some point in their career, settle a dispute between two very different personalities. This is par for the course when you take on that role. As is resolving confrontation between employees and managing different communication styles.
No matter who you lead, you’ll face these challenges and you need to know how to deal with them.
Let’s face it. Technicians and engineers are a bit of a different breed, though, so IT leaders will naturally face some unique challenges because of the type of work they perform and the types of people they manage.
1. IT is invisible.
As much as other leaders will tell you they understand the importance of IT, most of them don’t get the half of it. That’s okay! It’s not their job to know the ins and outs of what you and your team do every day. It’s yours.
To them, your department fixes what needs fixing: computers, printers, wifi and a whole host of other things that may or may not be in your purview. They’d prefer that you be invisible, that things always go right and that they never have to call you.
Brock Glidwell, Pearson-Kelly’s vCIO, puts it this way: When was the last time someone called you up and said, “Thanks, Brock! I just wanted to let you know that I logged into my computer just fine today and the network’s running great!”
It’s okay to laugh because we all know the answer is never.
When your wins are keeping the network running without bugs, glitches or security breaches and implementing new tech with little to no downtime or disruption, it’s easy for everyone else to forget how much work you do in a single day. Normally, that’s not a big deal, except when it comes time to pitch your next big idea, ask for money for that next initiative or need to hire another technician.
2. Most IT leaders come up as technicians.
Many IT leaders start as technicians and work their way up the ranks. Once you hit that leadership role, you stop thinking reactively and start thinking proactively. Your job now isn’t just to fix what’s broken, it’s to make sure the whole system doesn’t collapse around you.
It’s a complete shift in thinking. IT leaders look at the changing landscape and new tech advancements, then try to find solutions to make the overall business run more effectively and efficiently.
Without a robust training program, which doesn’t exist in many businesses, IT leaders are underprepared to take on a role that requires them to defend their team, their actions and their results to an executive team that measures success on revenue and ROI.
They’re used to working with like-minded technical individuals, which makes it much easier to build productive teams. When you take on a leadership role in IT, though, you become a translator between your technical team who knows what the problems are and your executive leadership team who doesn’t speak that language.
Because of these unique challenges, IT leaders need to always have three specific skills in their arsenal:
YOU HAVE TO BE DECISIVE.
Part of being decisive is learning how to triage your to-do list when things start to fall off your plate, and it’s learning how to appropriately and accurately delegate to your team.
Great IT leaders can do this because they know how much they can handle on any given day, what’s coming down the pipeline and can quickly adapt to changing situations. They have a macro view of their department and the business that allows them to make quick decisions and be confident they were also the right ones.
Decisiveness is absolutely key to the success or failure of an IT leader.
Because technology changes so rapidly, and because projects can get derailed by a single phone call, IT leaders require the ability to discern what’s most important for the business’ overall success and act.
More than that, though, great IT leaders know how to effectively communicate those decisions to their team, other leaders and whoever else may be affected. They provide clarity of purpose and direction that allows their team to move forward and their executive leadership team to be confident in its success.
YOU HAVE TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS.
Because your departmental wins go largely unrecognized, it’s your job to make your employees feel like they belong and like they make a difference in the organization beyond just fixing the next problem.
Great leaders find the common ground among their employees and use it to develop team chemistry that allows for better collaboration and results. When employees like and respect one another, they’re more apt to want to come to work, want to work together and want to succeed as a team.
As leaders, this is the number one goal. It’s the focus of nearly every leadership book, and yet too many leaders struggle day in and day out with it.
In a video interview, Jason Bekemeier, Pearson-Kelly’s Technical Support Manager, talks about how he built relationships in and among his team in the middle of the COVID quarantine:
“We would have meetings that we didn’t talk about work at all,” Bekemeier said. “One of the best meetings we had we talked about video gaming – what their favorite video game was and the technology behind the video game.”
One of the things he saw was his team relax and get comfortable with one another in a time where they didn’t know what was going to happen next. It allowed them to have fun, so, when it came time to work, they pulled on that momentum and hit the ground running.
YOU HAVE TO PROBLEM-SOLVE.
This seems like a no-brainer. If you work in IT, your job is to solve problems. Whether it’s fixing a printer, setting up a new employee with all their tech or implementing new security policies to protect your business, problem-solving is the most basic function you and your team perform every day.
The hard part for anyone in IT is determining what the actual problem is.
The reality is that the problem you get from an end user is most likely a symptom of a deeper and more troublesome issue. It’s your job as a leader to dig deep and find those underlying issues that create friction and obstacles in your business, define a strategy for remediating it and then execute to that strategy in a way that doesn’t disrupt business flow.
When you train your team to do the same, you enable them to attack the real issues instead of cleaning up symptoms. You take them off the hamster wheel and allow them to affect real change in your business.
Being a leader is one of the most humbling, daunting and fulfilling experiences in business. You get a chance to make a difference in your business, in your customers’ businesses and in the lives of your employees.
As an IT leader, you take on one of the most difficult, and sometimes thankless, jobs in an organization. If you can master these three skills, though, you’re setting yourself, your employees and your business up to see major successes in the future.