From the very title of the trade, it’s clear that an IT leader should, well, lead. Lead people, teams and lead by example, by expertise, by motivation. This kind of senior executive may go by different monikers – CIO (Chief Information Officer), CTO (Chief Technical Officer), CDO (Chief Data Officer), Digital Officer, Analytics Officer, Technical Team Leader, etc., but the single essential role is to lead teams to achieve a set of particular goals. To do this effectively, one has to constantly strive to become a better IT leader.
In most cases, the prime responsibility of a technology leader is product delivery, both on time and fully functional. Needless to say, IT leadership is crucial for any business to succeed. So who is a technology leader and what skills should he possess? How well should he understand the technology to be able to align the business and technology strategies? In what way do his personal qualities drive the workforce efficiency? What skills and qualities should he develop to become a better IT leader?
Let’s try to find the answers to these questions together. If you strive to become a tech leader, read on to find out what it takes, and if you already are or consider yourself one, we encourage you to review these points and see whether you’re on a right path to become a better IT leader.
Responsibilities of a leader
Self-awareness and sympathy, a drive to learn, ability to delegate, decisiveness…these are qualities you hear about all the time. But the precursor to all those qualities, the driving force, are the responsibilities of a technology leader.
There are three core responsibilities of technology leadership:
- tech expertise,
- team support,
What does it mean exactly? Firstly, a leader needs technical excellence to be able to enforce (and then monitor) practices and standards of work adopted and realized by the whole team.
Secondly, he should know how to lead an IT team – facilitate and motivate, organize proper workflow and provide support so that it can run smoothly. And thirdly, he should be a driving spirit for innovation, for trying out new things, finding new solutions, for experimentation, and be an example for each team member to follow.
That’s why teams often assign technology leaders based on those merits – as software architects, as team facilitators or as innovation generators. In practice, it translates into tasks like enacting work guidelines, reviewing code and design, choosing particular tools and frameworks, assigning time, delegating tasks, monitoring team activities, etc.
With the innumerable challenges that all IT leaders face today, e.g. fast pace of change, the complexity of systems and processes, budget limitations, and cybersecurity issues, developing a few specific personal skills could better serve productivity.
Five key skills you need to become a better IT leader
#1 Communication and encouragement
Being able to converse effectively with the team, as well as convey your actions to partners/clients is a rule number one that will help you become a better IT leader. You should be able to observe all the inner workings and identify the strong and weak points. Improving areas of weakness is key to adding value to a team and growing professionally.
Team spirit, mutual trust, an environment where it is safe to fail – building and fostering these things are signs of good technology leader. A leader should bring out the best in people, bolster morale, and establish trust between the IT department and senior management.
Thus they have to communicate honestly and foster a personal connection with a team. When a team falls into a routine and seems uninspired, a leader should come up with individual and/or team challenges. Listen, encourage and work together.
With dozens of tasks to deal with and hundreds of things to keep in mind, you do not have much time to ponder. Often, quick decisions have to be made that may impact the whole organization, so if you want to become a better IT leader, you should recognize how important it is to be decisive and strive to do that.
Though, to make decisions, both positive and timely, remember that the easiest (or most obvious) answer isn’t necessarily the right one. You have to know what you are basing decisions on, but you also don’t have to be fearful of making a mistake.
Consequently, an IT leader should manifest authority, management skills, and tough work ethic. Their authority should not be based on submission but on advice, example, mutual respect, and coaching. In other words, a healthy authority.
#3 Intelligence and clarity
In many instances, it could be tempting to simply answer “I know what I’m doing” and just be defensive when asked about this or that decision. But surely, for an intelligent technical leader, that would be unwise. An intelligent IT head should be able to explain complicated systems or processes in an understandable and clear way to non-technical people.
More importantly, this goes for when you are working on a certain problem with developers. You have to explain your proposed solutions, and they don’t necessarily have to be simple – but your reasoning should be. If your team can’t apprehend what you’re saying or directing them to do, you’ve got a problem.
In many cases, a team relies on your written guidelines even when you aren’t around, and in some cases – on your code. Needless to say, it better be concise. Remember, that you are setting the tone, especially in times of new challenges or something you don’t know yet.
#4 Problem solving and strategic thinking
In essence, every IT person and technology leader is a problem-solver. It’s the kind of art that demands both analytical and creative thinking. Generally, it involves a precise understanding of the problem/issue, asking the right questions, visualizing certain processes, evaluating options, selecting one or a few, and monitoring results.
For IT leaders, it’s often about seeing a problem in small pieces that a team can solve, and it’s also about clearly explaining options or decisions to teams, clients and supervisors. Some may even name this trait the most crucial one, arguing that tech leaders are put in charge to solve problems, not just to manage teams.
Of course, problem-solving at leadership level must be aligned with the company’s business goals and strategy. This means following industry trends, constant analysis, making decisions as a part of solid vision ahead.
As a tech leader, you should be figuring out how and in what ways technology could drive the whole company toward growth. You have to learn about customer needs and expectations, about competitors, etc. and make technology that serves those objectives. A good measure of knowledge and practice in these areas will, for sure, help you become a better IT leader.
You should also encourage employees to try out new ideas and things that could lead to innovation. During complex projects, the chance for success would be greatly reduced if only one person were involved in problem-solving.
Leading teams ranging from dozens to hundreds of employees is nearly impossible without delegating tasks. IT leaders, depending on what they’re dealing with, have to select the right people who can help with various daily tasks.
Obviously, one person cannot be great at everything, and there’s nothing wrongful with assigning a task to a person who you know will do it faster and better – it’s one of the biggest reasons why companies outsource. This pushes the company toward achieving business goals, or could be a motivational factor as well – for example, passing on small tasks to new employees to foster confidence.
Everyone should be contributing in order for a business to grow, not just team leaders. As one of the core management skills, delegation elevates you from what you can do personally to what you can manage.
Although, you should bear in mind that it is not about your own value, but about maximizing the productivity of a team. Thus, many team leaders advise inviting people to participate, discuss and make suggestions before delegating tasks.
Don’t disregard soft skills
Like previously mentioned, tech team leaders don’t manage teams by fear and force, they rather focus on people, challenging them for a positive change. To promote personal connections and real impact, a team leader has to listen, work together with a team and try to create an air of collaboration.
Another field for improvement for everyone who wants to become a better IT leader, are soft skills or as tech folks call it “people skills”. These include:
- Integrity – being honest by sticking to your moral principles and your word. For team members to work with confidence and trust, especially during business transformations, they need to know their leader has a strong character and operates in their best interest.
- A sense of humor – an integral trait to lead, motivate and lift the spirits of a team. Your boss cracking a joke could easily lift the pressure and create a feeling of fellowship. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” a movie character once rightly stated.
- Agreeable personality – as another side to being tough and demanding in some aspects. Willing to listen and discuss, being open to suggestions and ideas, and accepting constructive criticism will foster friendly working environment.
- Empathy – the ability to put yourself in someone else’s position and understand their challenges. This helps in making connections, evaluating alternative options and deciding on the best ways for a team to work.
- Time management – scheduling, prioritizing and setting proper deadlines for tasks. This is sometimes underestimated, but focusing on timely results is vital for any technical project.
- Keeping calm – the ability to stay cool and do the job at turbulent times (broken deadlines, downtimes, deployment errors, etc.) and passing the same to the team is key to resolving issues quickly.
This article is a part of Handbook:Leading a Software Development Team: Guidebook for CTOs and Team Leaders
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