One of the disturbing realities of working in IT is that most of your non-IT coworkers don’t know what you do. That’s good because it offers a certain level of freedom, but it also means you often don’t get credit for great work.
Your work is your value to the company. If no one recognizes your work, how can they determine your value? How can you express your value? And if you’re an IT leader, how does your IT team make you look like a hero? That’s the very question we asked of IT leaders, and here are our favorite answers.
1: They look out for each other
“Our team is constantly watching each other’s backs, communicating, teaching and responding to each other’s needs and our clients’ needs,” said Daniel Riedel (@riedelinc), CEO, New Context. “This collaboration means we deliver our services on time, respond to incidents quickly, and keep operations going strong.”
2: They anticipate organizational needs
“The best way my team makes me look like a hero is by anticipating what the organization will want to have before the organization realizes it, and building the capability to satisfy that need in a pleasantly surprising fashion,” offered Andy Ellis (@CSOAndy), CSO, Akamai.
3: They offer ideas
The ability to anticipate problems doesn’t happen on its own. An IT leader must foster an environment that welcomes forward-thinking behavior. For example, at Egnyte, co-founder and CSO, Kris Lahiri (@KrisLahiri) has developed a positive culture that encourages everyone to learn from each other and innovate.
“This enables my team to be creative and develop new features or functionality that I did not originally have on my roadmap,” said Lahiri.
Bill Schrier (@BillSchrier), senior policy advisor, State of Washington Office of the CIO, said he never rejects an idea: “I brainstorm with folks and figure out a way to use it, then I give them credit. I hope this inspires them to generate more ideas, talk well about the organization and then make the organization look like a hero.”
4: They understand the business
Mark Herschberg, principal, White Knight Consulting, said that his team can identify problems before they become problems by working to understand the business.
“They don’t just follow given requirements but understand how the business operates,” said Herschberg.
This “thinking like the business” cliché is critical, agreed Alex Hutton (@AlexHutton), faculty member, IANS: “My experience is that the best conversations tend not to be fascination with unique or new technical capabilities, but discussions designed to anticipate how the business will react to technical change.”
5: They take on other responsibilities
“No one on our team ever uses the phrase ‘that’s not my job,’” said Tim Mullahy (@tmmullahy), general manager, Liberty Center One. “They make us look good by tracking down answers to questions even if they aren’t the ones responsible for the task.”
6: They are informed and aware of organizational goals
“Making sure that everyone knows what is happening is fundamental to a well-functioning team,” stated Bruno Scap (@MaseratiGTSport), founder and president, Galeas Consulting. “When everyone is aware of what exactly is expected of them there is accountability, which keeps team members focused on what they should be doing. Other groups and individuals will notice that your team delivers on time in a consistent and predictable fashion, which will help increase your team-leading reputation.”
7: They prepare and practice
“Teams become heroes because of how they act during a crisis,” said Bruce Schneier (@schneierblog), CTO, Resilient Systems. “If you're going to do best, you're going to have to prepare. Practice, not because what you practice is what's going to actually happen, but because that's how you learn how to respond to the unexpected. Get to know each other. Build understanding, build trust. Run drills. Equip yourself with an incident-response platform that is both powerful and flexible.”
8: They don’t just sell services. They scope client needs.
“Many organizations want to jump right into building out a private cloud or consuming public cloud services without a clear understanding of what they want to get out of it,” said Terence Ngai (@TerenceCNgai), head of cloud delivery management for HP. “As a cloud solution delivery professional, my team identifies clients’ desired outcomes of a cloud solution before we begin the implementation so we don’t fall into a ‘scope creep’ situation.”
9: They focus on clients
“Every client is different, after all; a plan that works for one isn’t going to work for another,” noted Daniel Page (@aseohosting), director of business development, ASEOHosting. “If your sales associates are skilled at working with prospective customers to design a plan that fits their specific needs, you’re going to enjoy a lot more business than if you’ve just got a rigid set of do-or-die options.”
“The best team members get great reviews from the end user,” said Nestor Rincon (@RinconDynamic), founder, Rincon Dynamic. “Teams that provide great customer service get noticed by top management, which in turn makes the team leader or project manager look like a hero.”
10: They keep the business safe and operational
“That still holds true,” continued Ottenheimer, “but simply working hard to ensure nothing noteworthy happens doesn’t get as much notice as completing projects, such as a self-service portal for password resets or end-to-end encryption.”
“Protecting the brand and sensitive information is always top-of-mind,” said Demetrios ‘Laz’ Lazarikos (@vArmourNetworks), CISO, vArmour. “In every CISO role I’ve been in, being a hero is when the infosec team delivers projects, doesn't slow down the business, and continues to protect the organization.”
11: They accept constructive criticism and act on it
No one likes to be criticized, but IT leaders need to manage and grow their team.
“If you, as an IT leader, can comfortably describe areas where team members need to improve to meet your expectations, in a way that is constructive and honest, without a hint of malice, then what you are giving them is the gift of growth,” advised Thom Langford (@ThomLangford), CISO, Publicis Groupe. “Their personal growth is something they will always respect you for. Do this badly, and they will continue to do what they want, despite the impacts on the team and you.”
12: They are proactive about project planning
“IT teams create heroes through effective project planning,” said Steve Prentice (@stevenprentice), senior writer, CloudTweaks. “Proactive planning is not simply about managing a schedule; it is about giving peace of mind to end users, who in turn will be less prone to demanding instant action. People who feel comfortable tend to be easier to work with.”
13: They are a motley crew with varied strengths
“I surround myself with people who have strengths different than me,” said Kirk Herath, VP, chief privacy officer, associate general counsel, Nationwide Insurance. “I try to choose people who have strengths different from each other. We all have ‘pot holes.’ My team fills in my pot holes and always provides me with all of the information and solutions necessary to make me look brilliant.”
14: They shine
“The best way you can have your team make you look like a hero is to make them look like heroes; then you can bask in their reflected glory,” said Marcus Ranum (@mjranum), senior strategist, Tenable Network Security.
“Ensure that they are given the room to grow and to prove themselves, and the results will stand for themselves,” added Quentyn Taylor (@quentynblog), director of information security, Canon Europe. “If your team members look like heroes, so will you as the leader of heroes. It’s like Nick Fury from the Avengers. He manages his staff well giving them the room to achieve their goals, and by definition he is the hero.”
“I've always felt that management/leadership positions are ultimately service roles: your job is to help organize people so they can accomplish stuff. You belong in the background,” concluded Ranum.
15: They measure success
“Tell your team that you want to start measuring things so you can tell where/when they are making things better, or more efficient, or faster, or cheaper,” said Tenable’s Ranum.
With metrics you’ll be able to clearly demonstrate your team’s hero status.
The goal, explained Ranum is to be able to say something to the effect of "Since we started this, the team is now doing twice as much as they did before, with an improvement in their overall quality of life and an improvement in overall outcomes."
16: They learn from failure
“In a culture of continuous improvement ‘failure is an option,’” said Theo Beack (@theobeack), CTO, Vertafore. “We view our mistakes as opportunities to learn how to improve our products. This requires a fearless level of transparency and accountability to ourselves, internal stakeholders, and our customers. My team instruments everything, from our core software engineering process, product UI, core product, and production infrastructure. The ability to get live telemetry into every aspect of our development process, operations, product behavior, and user experience enabled us to identify critical areas of improvement, which we attacked iteration after iteration.”
This was the roadmap Beack’s team followed when handling an incredibly complicated merger.
“The team’s efforts have earned us recognition by Best in Biz and the Puget Sound Business Journal, who named me CTO of the Year in 2014. I give 100 percent credit to my team for their role in transforming technology operations in a $400 million dollar corporation,” added Beack.
17: They make it look easy
“When trying to make my CIO clients look like heroes, the key is making everything look really simple, so that people feel empowered to solve business problems,” said Ty Rollin (@tyrollin), CTO, Mobiquity. “In the same vein, my team makes complicated mobile worlds simple. They simplify all of this so I can present it to the next level. To me, this is the essence of making a hero: enabling me to easily use this condensed information to make bigger decisions.”
18: The team works better than the individual
“My staff continues to demonstrate that no single member of our organization is as powerful as when our combined expertise, talent, and teamwork have us all moving in the same direction,” said Steven Russo (@Certainsafe), EVP, Certainsafe. “They continue to make upper management look like heroes or stars.”
19: The team acts like they’re the best
“My colleagues are committed to the concept that we act, every day, like a top one percent firm (the Harvard Business School of IT services) and that we make a positive impact,” said Ken Brindamour (@kenbrindamour), SVP for service delivery, Atrion. “They are phenomenal at detailed execution (I often gloss over the details); they are super-attuned to what’s going on with the team (I might be overly focused on clients or numbers); and they get stuff done (I set a direction and they make it happen).”
20: They allow you to deliver
“They allow me to keep the promises I make,” boasted Cortney Thompson (@CortneyThompson), CTO, Green House Data, while reaffirming many of the aforementioned qualities IT leaders appreciate in their staff: “They are heroes themselves and breed that culture into the company. They anticipate problems and bring me into the loop before I'm asked what we are doing to resolve it. Our team continually trains and pumps the latest research and techniques into streamlining our processes. The team also holds down the frontline defenses allowing me to focus on the bigger picture. Anytime a gap presents itself the team makes sure it's filled.”
CONCLUSION: Your team dictates your fate
“Your team knowingly or unknowingly holds a huge amount of influence over how you as a leader are perceived by the rest of the business. How they interact with the business directly reflects on you; if they give a bad experience then you look like a bad leader, and vice versa,” noted Publicis’ Langford, who suggested that maybe the question should have been, “How do you ensure your team doesn't make you look like an idiot?”