Great IT Leaders Must Be Great Connectors

If you want to be a Digital Renaissance Man or Woman, you must be a world-class connector of people with different backgrounds, disciplines and world views.

If you want to become a Digital Renaissance Man or Woman, you will have to become a world-class connector. You will need to be the person who brings people together and helps them bring out the best in each other.

If you're up to the challenge of being a world-class connector, here are three things that you must do:

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
The first challenge that you will likely have when it comes to becoming a great connector is that your world is too small. Face it, IT professionals tend to only spend time with others in our industry. Perhaps on a social level, your reach is broader, but there's a good chance that you rarely connect your two worlds. However, to create the Medici Effect, you need to bring together people of different disciplines, cultures and perspectives. It means that you need to get out of your comfort zone and find people whose backgrounds are different than your own! Perhaps that involves going to a financial industry networking event. Or perhaps you can attend a gallery reception (you know, with art and stuff!). Or you can attend a local Chamber of Commerce event. Whatever it is, just make sure that you are purposefully putting yourself in a situation where you will meet people who look at the world differently than you do.

Get Out of Your Box
Getting yourself to the party is the first step. Once you're there, you need to open your mind to whatever may come. On a recent speaking tour of New Zealand, a friend graciously invited me to spend the weekend at her house between events. As we were driving to her home, she informed me that good friends of her and her husband would be joining us for dinner.  

And that they were dairy farmers.  

I have to admit that I thought to myself, "Great. What in the world am I going to talk to dairy farmers about?" As it turned out, they were lovely and welcoming people, and it was a great pleasure to meet them. Eventually, the inevitable happened and the dairy farmer turned to me and asked, "So what do you do for a living?"

"Oh, I work in computers," I answered, thinking it was best to keep it simple.

"Ah, good. Technology is amazing these days. Our farm is fully automated. I manage my entire herd of 500 cattle with only three people. You should see my control room." With that exchange, we proceeded to spend the next hour discussing the automation that he uses to run his farm. (It's a very interesting story, but one that will have to wait for another article.)

The point is that we are in an amazing industry that touches nearly everything. I dare you to attend any networking or social function and not find a way that what you do connects to everyone else. So open your mind, get out of your self-imposed box and enjoy the wonder of seeing how technology is connected to almost everything else today in unexpected ways.

Get Out of the Way
Once you begin to see the world through different eyes, ideas will begin to emerge. As they do, new connections will form. As much as this may happen outside of your company, you may be surprised to learn that these outside experiences and perspectives will help you to discover new ideas from the inside. As these ideas emerge, your goal is to bring people together and let them explore.

The trick is to get out of their way.

Where most innovation goes wrong is when people attempt to "over script" it. The Medici family didn't seek to create the Renaissance. There was no invitation-only Renaissance conference with facilitated brainstorming sessions and panels on "Artistic Innovation in Five Simple Steps." Through their patronage, the Medici family simply brought these great artists and thinkers together different—and then stayed out of the way. It was simply being together in one place and being given the freedom to explore that allowed the innovation to happen.

Creating a Modern-Day Florence

Our modern world is a challenging place. We need leaders who can help us come together to solve complex problems in unique and surprising ways. No one person, let one perspective, will have all of the answers. It will be the Digital Renaissance Men and Women who are able to bring us together so that we can combine our unique perspectives and expertise to create something larger than ourselves.  

You can be one of these leaders. You just need to strive to expand your perspectives, actively seek to see the connections between everyone and everything, and then provide forums to let those around you explore them. How can you become a modern-day patron of the digital arts? How can you create a modern-day Florence? In your own part of the world, these are some of the questions that you must be asking yourself if you will help lead us into the future. 

About the Author

Charles Araujo is a recovering consultant and accidental author of the book, The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. He is an internationally recognized authority on IT Leadership and liberally shares his message of hope about the future of IT and what it means for all of us. He is the founder and CEO of the IT Transformation Institute and serves on the boards of itSMF USA and the Executive Next Practices Institute. You can follow him at @charlesaraujo.

Editor's note: This is the fifth installment of a six-part article series titled "What It Means to be a Digital Renaissance Man." To read the fourth installment, "Three Reasons You're Probably Not More Curious," click here.

This article was originally published on 08-06-2014
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