The Art of Being a Great IT Leader
A great IT leader has a vision, practices servant leadership, is accountable to others, and has a personal relationship with his or her team.
When Cameron started at First American, he had a vision. It was both simple and powerful. He saw his purpose as creating an IT organization that was stable and executed flawlessly so the CIO could be the Chief Innovation Officer, constantly looking for ways to leverage IT to generate new revenue and growth opportunities. He then translated that vision into meaningful and tactical goals that his team could understand. He used this vision as a rallying cry to inspire those around him. He began to hold leadership meetings in which he sought share his vision, inspire teams to get involved and teach leadership skills to his management team. Soon others in the organization began to join in. Not because they had to or because they were told to, but because they wanted to be a part of it.
If you think of someone who was a great leader in your life they are almost always someone who inspired you to accomplish more than you imagined possible—and who helped you be more than you realized you could be. They did not do it by telling you what to do. They did not spoon-feed you little tasks and then micromanage you. They dreamed out loud. They shared a vision of a future that they believed was possible. And they inspired you to want to be a part of that future. And so, without being asked, you showed up. You went above and beyond simply because you believed in what you were doing. And you shared the vision with others. That’s what it means to be a visionary. It doesn’t have to be “change the world” big, but it is the only thing that truly has the power to change everything. And it is something that each and every one of us has the power to do.
Great Leaders are Servants
If you’ve read my book The Quantum Age of IT, you know that I am a big believer in the concept of “servant leadership.” While the concept has existed for thousands of years, it is often misunderstood. We tend to think of servants in a derogatory fashion. But being a servant simply means that you seek to be of service to others. Embedded in the idea of servant leadership is the foundational principle of humility. In its simplest form, a great leader understands that what they can achieve alone is extremely limited and that their vision can only be realized through the efforts of others. And they know that if the vision is to be realized, they must enable and empower others to be successful.
I remember the day when I was a young manager and my CIO pulled me aside. I was new to the position, and she asked if we could talk. I am not sure what I had expected, but I know it wasn’t what unfolded next. “I want you to know that I have a very important job,” she began. Ok, I knew where this was going; this was the “make sure you remember who is boss” talk. “My job,” she continued, “is to make sure that you have whatever you need to do your job. And to make sure that any of the political stuff stops with me so that you can focus on getting the job done.” I frankly have no idea how I responded. I was in shock. Here was a senior IT executive, my boss, someone that I respected enormously, telling me that in her eyes, she worked for me. That she was there to serve my work needs so that the vision for the organization could be realized. It was a powerful moment and one that had a tremendous impact on me.