Surprising Insights About Strategic IT Leadership
We wanted to give IT leaders a chance to explain what motivated them to want to become more strategic—beyond the fact that they’re being told they must do this.
“Why do you want to become a more strategic IT leader?”
“What is your biggest barrier to becoming more strategic?”
“How is strategy currently handled in your IT organization?”
For the last few weeks, we asked our community of IT leaders those three questions.
Because IT leaders are constantly being told they must “become more strategic.” Often, this advice is given without much elaboration. It’s given as if “becoming more strategic” was a simple thing to do. And this guidance is given as if the benefits were so obvious.
After hearing this advice repeated again and again, we realized there was one set of voices missing from the conversation about strategic IT leadership … the voice of the IT leaders themselves.
We wanted to give IT leaders a chance to explain what really motivated them to want to become more strategic—beyond the fact it’s something they’re being told they must do. And we wanted to better understand the real challenges they faced when they tried to “step up” and contribute a different type of value to the business.
To uncover this, we put together a small survey, and shared it with our community of IT leaders. What we got back: these three surprising insights about strategic IT leadership.
Insight 1: IT Strategy Is Not About the Tech. It’s About the People.
When you hear the big IT publications talk about strategy, it’s always focused on the technology. They always feature headlines like these:
"Looking for an A.I. Strategy?"
"How to Develop an Internet of Things Strategy"
"How to Get Creative With Your Digital Transformation Strategy"
But none of our respondents wanted to become more strategic just to play with all the big, cool technologies coming out. Instead, these IT leaders wanted to use strategy to get closer to their people.
Half of them wanted to use strategy to engage and excite their teams. Half wanted acceptance from their business’ senior leaders. Some of them wanted to use strategy to “stay in tune with colleagues on the business side.” Others wanted to use strategy to get invited to the inner circles of senior business leadership.
But in every single response, IT leaders wanted to “step up” and become a more strategic leader so they could improve their relationships within their organization. For IT leaders, “becoming more strategic” is a people issue—not a tech issue.
And yet, looking deeper into the data, we came to see, for most IT leaders…
Insight 2: Your Stakeholders Are Not the Problem (Yet).
Since IT leaders care about strategy primarily for people-driven reasons, you’d expect that IT leaders’ biggest barrier to becoming more strategic would be stakeholder relationship problems.
We expected that.
We thought that when we asked IT leaders, “What is your biggest challenge to becoming a more strategic IT leader?” most would respond, “My business stakeholders won’t listen to me.” But the opposite happened.
Only 12.5 percent of our respondents said they can’t become a more strategic IT leader because their business stakeholders won’t listen to them. Instead, 87 percent said they can’t become more strategic because they spend all their time completing one-off projects and putting out fires, or they lack a central compelling vision and strategy to bring to their stakeholders or their teams.