From IT technician to IT leader – taking the first step towards leadership excellence

Are you an IT technician struggling to become an IT leader? Here’s what’s holding you back.

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I have said it before and I will say it again, not everyone has what it takes to be a leader.

Leadership is not something easy to muster. If that were the case, there would not be a shortage of leaders in the world.

That being said, anyone can be a leader as long as they are willing to work towards it. Having worked with IT professionals for more than two decades, I have seen firsthand how IT professionals struggle to go beyond that cubicle, and how they end up hitting that glass ceiling even though they have unparalleled technical skills.

A major challenge IT professionals face in becoming what they call in the industry as ‘leadership material’ is that they do not focus on soft skills. Let’s dive into it and discuss how to overcome that challenge.

The challenge –  IT professionals do not focus on soft skills

IT is one of the fastest changing industries on earth and it touches multiple other industries to drive efficiency, productivity through automation, and innovation. This means that IT professionals are hardwired to keep their fingers on the pulse of new technologies and keep on learning new skills. They have to learn, unlearn and re-learn as their survival depends on it. And that’s why IT professionals are some of the most dedicated lifelong learners in the world.

Having said that, when an IT professional sets out to acquire new skills, they end up acquiring IT skills. This means that someone who works in the cyber security industry will invest their time in learning ethical hacking or acquiring a CompTia Security+ certificate, and the thought of doing an ‘Executive Strategy & Management’ course will not cross their mind. And why should it? It doesn’t look like something that will improve their technical skills or job prospects.

That’s how most IT professionals think, and that’s why there comes a point where they get pigeon-holed into a specific role for years. They move from organization to organization, and while they may see some growth in terms of income, they continue to struggle in moving from the role of a senior IT technical resource to the role of a CTO. Even the ones that become CTOs by default struggle in leading their teams. How many times have you heard people from your technology team complain that their manager lacks people’s or leadership skills? Just because you are given a leadership role, that does not make you a leader much less an effective leader.

The solution – focus on leadership skills

In the IT community, the one with the best technical skills is respected among their peers. However, technical skills alone will not carry you over the threshold of greatness. You need to work on the following:

  • Effective communication skills
  • Understanding the difference between managing and leading
  • Figuring out how to inspire and influence
  • Learning the art of prioritizing (focusing on majors in the majors)
  • Learning how to drive operational excellence
  • Ability to see the bigger picture
  • Performance management
  • Emotional intelligence

Sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it?

Very few leaders in the world have all these skills, but the more of these skills you have, the more success you will see in your career. You won’t end up with these qualities in a day, but the good news is, you already have some of these qualities. Some of us have the innate ability to connect with others and understand their motivations (emotional intelligence), some of us inspire others by serving as an example for them, some of us are great at managing their won performance, and can use the same knowledge to manage a team’s performance. None of us are without innate skills and qualities, so a good idea would be to do the following:

  • Create a checklist of the qualities you have
  • Create a checklist of the qualities you want to acquire
  • Compare it with the checklist I have provided above

Did any of the skills I recommended overlap with the skills you already possess? Great, cross them out.

Did any of the recommended skills overlap with the skills you wish to acquire? Even better, you are thinking along the right lines. Now that you have identified where you stand and where you wish to be, the journey forward should be simple. Notice that I said simple and not easy. Nothing worth having in this life comes easy. You will have to put in the time and work on improving your soft skills, but the results are worth it.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and creating that checklist. In my next blog post, I will focus on how to improve your communication skills so that you may prosper in a corporate environment. Until then, please feel free to reach out and ask any questions that you may have.

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