Career patterns of IT professionals can leave them ill equipped for leadership.
Building competent technology leaders remains a unique challenge for most organizations.
Although they play a vital role in organizational growth, there is surprisingly little empirical research on the core competencies of effective IT leaders. This not only can be a problem, it already is.
It has been our experience, as specialists in providing leadership development and coaching support to IT Managers and Executives, that there are definite career patterns and behavioral traits of IT professionals that do not necessarily support the needed leadership competencies of executive level IT leaders
It is usually the technology challenges that get IT people into the technology field. As their careers progress though, they find themselves more and more removed from the very thing that interested them in the first place. As a result, they often continue to try and maintain their technical expertise, when the focus should be more on learning how to manage and lead.
Leadership Best Practices:
In a recent global study of leadership effectiveness among IT managers and executives, conducted by the Management Research Group, it was found that there are critical leadership competencies that technology leaders and executives must learn:
• A strategic perspective of the long term impact of their decisions
• An ability to build cohesive teams, a willingness to seek opinions of others and collaboratively build consensus and supportive relationships (strong interpersonal and effective communications abilities)
• An ability to clearly express their thoughts to a wide audience and clarify expectations
• An awareness that they are constantly under scrutiny and are comfortable being in charge
Though research has identified core competencies for effective leadership, a technology career path is not typically built on the same competencies, as the emerging leader comes from excelling in technology related responsibilities. They are then promoted into positions leading or managing people.
In the beginning, they are called upon to manage other technicians, this is a relatively easy transition since they are relating with technical people most of the time. As they continue in their careers, they eventually have to lead organizations and interact more frequently with non-technical people. They are forced to navigate the political waters of the company and have to build organizations that meet the needs of the business, while maintaining a pulse on the technological challenges facing the organization.
Information Technology is centered on customer service and every IT organization needs to realize that without a business line or need for user support, there will be no need for the technology organization. IT Leaders need to understand the strategic vision of all the people they support and build functional organizations that support that vision and needs. Often the focus of building technology organizations is focused on building a bench of technical expertise without concern for other needed skills. This is where the “comfort zone” of most new IT leaders is centered and this often is where the problems start.
Our approach is to develop a strategic process to build the critical leadership competencies as technical managers and leaders move into new roles. New IT leaders need to understand the leadership competencies required and once the gaps are identified, we can jointly create and implement a developmental plan that meets the needs of the organization.
[box]Paul Sniffin is a Managing Partner & Mike Paradis is a former CIO and executive coach with Cornerstone International Group in Baltimore, Maryland, USA[/box]