by Francois Estellon

Demonstrating leadership in IT is an all-around contest

Feb 10, 2016
CIOIT LeadershipMentoring

IT leaders are like decathletes: They must demonstrate many skills and the ability to compromise across multiple dimensions for the sake of overall success.

When queried, most companies’ executives rank leadership skills as high or higher than technical skills when looking for a new CIO. Technology will get you the interview, but the demonstrated ability to lead during change and transformation will get you the job.

So what is leadership for a technology leader? I often use the analogy of comparing IT leadership to a Decathlon (thus the title of this blog!). Traditionally, the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete” has been given to the individual who wins the Olympic Decathlon. Athletes and coaches participating in this demanding event need to have the right combination of strength, speed, agility and endurance across 10 events that some other athletes spend a lifetime perfecting – sound familiar ?

So what are the 10 events that the CIO must master to build the “World’s Greatest IT Team”?

  1. Managing resources. A leader must not burn all their team’s energy on the first race and plan to complete the whole event. Likewise, the CIO must identify their team’s individual strengths, weaknesses and motivators to properly train for maximum, sustainable performance (mentally and physically).

  1. Embracing change. Each race requires different skills and muscle memory, the CIO must practice making their team comfortable at quickly adapting/overcoming challenges.

  1. Providing clarity and direction. While IT leaders need to have a clear strategy for the whole competition, they need to provide freedom for each event to be successful

  1. Demonstrating the right behavior. As coaches,the CIO need to operate not so much in words as in attitude and actions. Team attitude reflects leadership.

  1. Building teams and culture. Each event is part of a larger whole, as an individual win may still equal a team loss. Cross-training and support is essential for long-term success and an overall team identity.

  1. Recognizing people and activities. Winning the event is the result of months and years of practice. Recognizing small successes and right behaviors (positive reinforcement) is the key to getting the team to race day.

  1. Listening. CIOs need to truly listen to their athletes even if they don’t like the tunes. True empathy provides a catalyst for change and team building

  1. Coaching. Typically CIOs have won in their past some of the individual events but now it is time to win the all-around championship. IT leaders need to build the pipeline of star athletes and future coaches that will make success sustainable

  1. Energizing. The event is long and difficult, with many ups and downs. The role of the CIO is to get the team through the event – being seen, accessible, cheering for the team’s successes.

  1. Delivery. Yes, with all the preparation, don’t forget to keep your eyes focused for the top of the podium!

While quick success is tempting, there are no shortcuts to achieve true leadership. One must master many skills which may appear contradictory and in total, usually requires a considerable length of time to achieve. Skipping a step only creates the illusion of speed and could quite possibly lead to a setback.

To close this first blog spot, let’s talk about a recognition of leaders. Many of us can name at least a few of the greatest 100m track athletes but who remembers the Decathlon winner of the last Olympics? Because they put the success of their organization and teams first, great IT leaders are not as popular as single event athletes.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”. —Lao Tzu

* Ashton James Eaton (born January 21, 1988) is an American decathlete and London 2012 Olympic champion, who holds the world record in both the decathlon and indoor heptathlon events, and is only the second decathlete to break the 9,000-point barrier, with 9,039 points. On August 29, 2015, he beat his own world record with a score of 9,045 points. (source: Wikipedia)