by Lyria Charles

How to assess your strengths and weaknesses to be a more effective IT leader

Sep 24, 2015
CIOIT Leadership

Taking on a new IT leadership role brings new challenges during your first 90 days. You need to play to your strengths and manage your weaknesses to perform at your best.

You’ve been in your new IT leader job for a short time now and you’re still excited about taking on this new assignment.

You’ve been following the suggestions I gave in my previous posts on how to get off to a great start during your first 90 days.

But you may be feeling overwhelmed at this point. And maybe a little worried that you’ve stepped into a situation that is bigger and more complex than you anticipated. You may even be wondering if you’re the right person for this job.

Relax. Take a deep breath. We’re going to get you to a good place.

Thrown into the deep end of the pool

Taking on a new IT leadership role brings new challenges during your first 90 days. You’re building new relationships with your team, your manager, and your stakeholders. You need to get up to speed on the projects, technologies, and issues. You’re drinking from a hose and trying to sort out what’s critical and what can wait.

And it doesn’t help that the spotlight is shining brightly on you right now. People have high expectations that you will be delivering results – after all, that’s why they hired YOU!

As you learn about your new environment, you may feel the need to take a deep dive into many areas so that you’re feeling more confident and in control. And while this is admirable, it may also backfire on you if you’re not careful.

Drowning in a pool of details

Some IT leaders, whether new in their job or not, feel their success is based on their solo performance; that they’re expected to have deep knowledge about everything going in their area of responsibility. So they try to be the “expert” in every aspect of their job.

But this can be a problem in a number of ways:

  • Getting buried in the low-level details of the technologies, projects, or issues detracts from your ability to be strategic and broad in your thinking.
  • You may be viewed as a “techie”, rather than a leader – which is definitely bad for your career.
  • You are depriving your team from developing their technical, leadership, and problem solving skills because you’ve over-taken responsibility for things they should be handling.
  • You’re going to burn out, and fast!

Stay in your swim lane

Since you can’t be an expert in everything, my advice is to play to your strengths. Your strengths are those talents and skills that got you hired into this role and made you successful in past roles.

When you play to your strengths, you will be more successful and confident; and people will have more confidence in you.

So what do you do about your weaknesses? You want to minimize your weaknesses as much as possible, and I have some tips below on how to do this.

Don’t swim against the stream

Leveraging your strengths requires that you know what your particular strengths are. This awareness will help you determine where you can best contribute and make an outstanding impression. Some examples of strengths:

  • Planning and organizing
  • Presenting in front of an audience
  • Quickly spotting relevant patterns and issues
  • Making decisions involving many factors
  • Being a change agent

Now make a list of your strengths. Refer to these examples of strengths to get your wheels turning.

Once you have your list of strengths, consider your current role and how your strengths might serve you in this situation. Think about how you can use these strengths to build relationships, lead your team, create value for your stakeholders, or solve problems.

Now let’s address those weaknesses.

Weaknesses are anything that gets in the way of excellent performance.

But all weaknesses are not created equal. There are low-impact weaknesses and high-impact weaknesses:

  • Low-impact weaknesses generally do not impact your performance review. For example, if you’re not great at creating pivot tables in Excel and you only need to do it occasionally, then this is probably not going to impact you very much. You can muddle your way through it.
  • High-impact weaknesses are weaknesses that can derail your career. For example, if your leadership role requires you to do frequent presentations and your communication skills are awful, this could be a career-killer for you.

Here’s some suggestions for managing low-impact weaknesses:

  • Delegate it. There may be someone on your team or that you can hire who is an expert in this area or is willing to learn to be the expert.
  • Negotiate it. If this activity is not essential to your performance, your manager may be willing to assign it to someone else on the team. In fact, the activity may only be on your plate because “it’s always been that way”, whether it made sense or not.
  • Purchase it. If appropriate for the situation and you have the budget for it, consider using a contractor or consultant to take over that activity.

High-impact weaknesses require you to do something to become proficient in those areas. Consider doing the following:

  • Learn it. Acquire knowledge through formal training or self-study.
  • Practice it. Pursue opportunities to practice your new skill in a safe setting.
  • Review it. Gather ongoing feedback from your manager or colleagues on your effectiveness in this area.
  • Nurture it. Work with a coach or mentor to continue your development.

Leveraging your strengths and managing your weaknesses will make you more effective in your IT leadership role. And while it takes a little effort on your part to figure this out, your career is definitely worth it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Please leave a comment!