What Does It Take to Be a Real IT Leader?

Too many budding IT workers pigeonhole their focus to learning methodologies and procedures at the expense of never developing general leadership skills. Even worse, some people still think of leaders as “hard-liners” who must strong arm their team into yielding results. In an article for InformationWeek, visiting SUNY professor Elliot Luber flips the script on these problems to describe what it takes to be an effective IT leader today.

The Ol’ Manager v. Leader Problem

A person who makes sure the team sticks to protocol and delivers the right final result within given constraints is a manager. A person who inspires a team and ensures projects aligns with organizational strategy is a leader. A great IT leader must embody both elements, yet Luber does not believe a term yet exists for such a leader. The majority of IT people in charge are often either one or the other anyway, by his estimation.

Luber poses an example to illustrate how managers and leaders think differently. A manager might announce a program before it is fully formed in order to create pressure for a team to finish by a given deadline. A leader by comparison might incentivize a team to finish by a certain date by offering a bonus. In the first case, the manager risks losing good programmers in a frustrating situation, but the product will probably release on schedule. In the second case, the leader receives good will for treating the team kindly, but the product might not release on time if the team is indifferent to the bonus.

It requires experience and a deft touch to marry the benefits of both worlds, but Luber discusses one anonymous IT leader whom he believes has indeed married the worlds:

… the experience was extraordinary. This leader not only communicated clearly a vision that motivated employees, but also took time to speak one-on-one with clients to make sure that the vision for the company was being put into practice by employees in the real world, where it mattered most.

This leader, who was responsible for the entire business, took the time to check on the work of the rank and file, even while mapping out a groundbreaking vision for the enterprise. This experience taught me an important lesson: A true leader has vision and follows through on the minutest details of success, leaving nothing to chance.

Leaving “nothing” to chance is likely a mild exaggeration, but the sentiment is understandable. IT workers need to lather their processes with empathy and find the middle ground that allows everyone to work cohesively. You can view the original article here:

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