16 Traits of Great IT Leaders

If you want to succeed as an IT leader you have to develop a set of traits that will serve you and those around you. Industry leaders and career experts share their thoughts on what behaviors make an IT leader great.

Being an exceptional leader is about more than getting the job done. You've got to balance your team's need with your goals and objectives as well as your emotions. You've got to think about things from other people's perspective and sometimes do things that, while are in the best interest of the team, might not be great for you. While there a number of different leadership styles, the best leaders share some common traits.

Managing People in IT is Different

What it means to be an IT leader today is different from what is was 10 years ago. The command-and-control way of thinking has given way to an era of employee empowerment and engagement. Leaders need to understand that no one person can do it all, that the people they surround themselves with and how they manage them are the keys to their success.

While experts agree that most of what they do is part of people management 101, there are differences when it comes to IT. There aren't many other areas that evolve as quickly as IT does and that can create unique challenges for an IT leader.

One example that is distinctive to IT, according to Pamela Rucker, chair of the CIO Executive Council's Executive Women in IT is the need to know your employees. "The pace of change in technology means that you always have some segment of your staff that wants to learn the hottest new tools, and you need to keep them out front so that they stay engaged. On the other hand, you have other leaders that tire of always having to learn a new technology and really want to focus on the business aspect of technology delivery. It's important for you to know how to manage both types of people and have the right blend of staff members to keep you technologically savvy and business-focused," says Rucker.

Today's IT Challenges

Allan Boardman, international vice president of ISACA and chair of ISACA's Credentialing and Career Management Board knows how demanding the tech world can be. There are a multitude of major challenges that today's senior IT leaders face, according to Boardman. These include the following:

  • The rate and pace of change.
  • The complexity and massive integration of systems, processes and applications, which often result in major outages and instability issues.
  • Ongoing pressure to cut costs year after year, despite having to meet increasing pressure from the business to innovate.
  • Threats to the business, particularly cybersecurity and privacy-related issues.
  • Being swamped in responding to regulations and audit issues, rather than getting on with helping the business make money and gain competitive advantage through its technology and information systems.
  • Still having to deal with legacy systems (many organizations are still on Windows XP because it's complicated to move forward).
  • Not being in control, particularly with the rapid rise in outsourcing and cloud services.

"While there are some things one cannot change about individuals, some leadership traits can be learned. There are very few people who are natural leaders - leadership is something people have to work at. Knowing what your shortcomings are, and recognizing them as such, is half the battle," says Boardman.

Both leaders and managers within IT who don't continue to hone their craft will be left behind. Whether you're the CIO, an IT manager or a developer incorporating the traits listed here will help you grow personally, professionally and ensure your continued success in IT.

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