IT is a department that has changed hugely over the last few years. The days of it taking a backseat and offering a supporting role to the rest of the business are long gone, with these professionals now expected to contribute to the success of the company in a much more proactive, strategic way.
Indeed, almost four-fifths of chief information officers (78%) are now part of their organization’s executive leadership, while more than half report directly to the CEO at least once a week.
This means what it takes to be an IT leader has changed as well, as these personnel are expected to have a strong business mind, while still working to manage the needs of what should be a diverse team, keep costs to a minimum and stay on top of new innovations and technologies, from cyber security to the rise of AI.
Balancing the different personalities in your department, motivating and encouraging staff, and keeping IT at the forefront of your business' strategy are hugely challenging tasks in today's constantly evolving environment, so you need the right skills and experience to make sure you're delivering the best results.
Therefore, here are five key traits no good IT leaders should be without.
1. Understanding your team
Your team won't always think alike. There will always be some employees who are enthusiastic about learning the latest tools, while others will prefer to focus on optimizing what they already have to deliver the best business outcomes. You need to recognize which camp everyone falls into and what they need from you to keep them engaged and motivated.
2. Know when to delegate
Knowing when to relinquish control to others and when you need to step in is the key to working efficiently, as well as keeping your team onboard. And this isn’t just about making sure you're using your own time as effectively as possible. Employees will resent a leader who tries to micromanage everything, believing they don't have faith in their team's abilities, which will be bad for morale. Knowing how to strike a balance between strong oversight and giving your team the freedom they need to be effective is one of the most important tasks for any manager. This is especially the case in IT, where many employees will be keen to work independently, but may occasionally need to be reined in to stop them straying too far from their original briefs.
3. Always be willing to learn
IT is a unique department because it never stands still. While other parts of a business will use tried and tested strategies that have been in place for decades, IT is always having to deal with new and innovative ways of working, so leaders need to be willing to try something new. This isn't limited to embracing new technologies - IT leaders should always be evaluating their own performance and asking where they can improve, whether this is building their knowledge of a specific system, or how they communicate with their employees.
4. Think beyond the department
IT doesn't operate in a bubble anymore and, like any other part of a good business, it needs to be constantly focused on what its customers want. Of course, in this case, the team's customers aren't just the company's customers, but users in other departments. Therefore, IT leaders should always be reaching out to business units to learn about their pain points and what they expect from your team. Are they frustrated by an app that requires them to go through inefficient, multistep processes? Is a certain piece of software too slow, or no longer suited to the firm's needs? Being seen to be listening outside of the department will build confidence in your team throughout the business and lead to better, more efficient solutions.
5. Know your own style
Finally, it's essential for any good IT leader to be self-reflective and recognize how their way of working fits into the culture of their team. Are you a Steve Jobs-esque perfectionist, or take more of a democratic approach. There's no one best way to approach your role, but it's important to know what effect your chosen style will have on your team, where it may or may not be the most appropriate solution, and when to adapt to get better results.