IT Leadership: Overcoming Three Career-Limiting Myths

What exactly is IT leadership?

Since I spend an awful lot of my time teaching leadership skills to IT professionals and managers, it’s a question I get asked on a regular basis.  For a while, I answered the question with a synthesized review of different academic theories of leadership and how these apply to the world of the IT professional. Result? Glazed eyes and frustration.

Trial and error yielded what I thought was an answer that would drive engagement and discussion rather than provide an exact definition. The new response went like this:

IT leadership is a lot like pornography. I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I know when I see it and when I don’t. But, more important than defining it is learning to see when you need to provide it and how to do just that.

I liked the laughs this answer got, and the interest it seemed to create with workshop attendees. But questions about the scope and nature of IT leadership kept coming up throughout the day. During one session a few months ago, a bright young analyst asked very matter-of-factly, “Why, exactly, am I at this leadership training? I don’t manage anybody.”

I responded with a question that was directed at the entire room of about 30 IT professionals: “Do you believe that IT leadership is only applicable to those with formal responsibility to manage others?” Imagine my surprised when nearly all of the attendees raised their hands. This was my “aha” moment.

See, all this time, I’d thought people were asking about the nature of leadership and how it differs from management. In reality, it wasn’t an academic question at all. It was a question of basic relevance. And most non-managerial IT professionals (at least those showing up in my workshops) weren’t exactly sure of the relevance.

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