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.

As Cameron explained to me that he saw his job as taking care of operations so his boss could focus on the more strategic issues, I saw the same type of servant leadership I’d experienced earlier as a young manager. As a leader, you must see yourself as being in the service of everyone around you—certainly those who work for you, but also your peers and managers. It’s an attitude that projects humility and commitment. It gives people hope, courage and enough faith to be willing to step up and accomplish things they didn’t know they were capable of accomplishing.

Great Leaders Are Accountable

Leadership is about more than just inspiring people. In the end, leaders are judged by what they and their teams accomplish. Inspiration is the fuel that powers achievement, but it also takes discipline and commitment to weather the difficult times that beset any ambitious undertaking. A great leader knows that type of commitment requires mutual accountability. First and foremost, a leader must be willing to hold him or herself accountable to their teams. They cannot see themselves as “above the law” or beyond any reproach. They must operate with complete transparency with their teams in order to establish the level of trust and commitment that is needed in strong teams. But more than that, great leaders require their teams to be accountable to each other. 

There is power in a team that is inspired by a leader and willing to work toward a collective vision. But there is much more power in a team that shares that vision among themselves and feels accountable to each other as they mutually pursue a goal. Cameron explained that when he launches a significant effort, he has the team draft a team agreement in which the team outlines their commitments to each other. Next, Cameron has each of them sign it. The team agreement is a visible statement of their level of commitment and accountability. By first submitting yourself as accountable to your team and then leading your team to be accountable to each other, you create a fraternal environment in which your team will go from being a mere collection of people to a single body—almost a family—that is pursuing a single goal. 

Great Leaders Are Personal

At one point while Cameron and I were enjoying our lunch, he called over the waiter. Cameron pointed to a table across the patio and, handing the waiter a credit card, told him that he wanted to pay for their lunch without them knowing who had done it. The table included members of his release management team, and he simply wanted to give them a little tangible recognition for doing their jobs well day in and day out. As Cameron had waved to them earlier, I have no doubt that they later put two and two together. Nevertheless, it exemplified one of the characteristics that I think prevents some good leaders from being great leaders.

Some leaders are revered. Some are admired. But the greatest leaders are those that while being both revered and admired, also build deep and personal relationships with their coworkers. They are not aloof or placed on a lofty pedestal. They do not stay locked in their quiet ivory tower, day-in only appearing to occasionally address the minions. Instead, great leaders live in the trenches and work aside their teams. They also invest in their teams on a personal level. They are approachable and go out of their way to make themselves accessible. Inspiration is great. Accountability builds trust. But more than anything else, people will walk to the proverbial end of the earth for people who know them, have invested in them and believe in them.

We are entering a new and exciting era for IT professionals. Leadership will be in great demand and short supply. But I believe there is a great IT leader in each of us. There is an art to great leadership, but it is an art you can learn. Make a commitment to become a great IT leader, and learn the art of leadership. It will make all the difference.

About the Author

Charles Araujo is the founder and CEO of The IT Transformation Institute, which is dedicated to helping IT leaders transform their teams into customer-focused, value-driven learning organizations. He is the author of the book 
The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change, is presently at work on two new books. Araujo is also the creator of DeepRoots, an organizational change methodology designed for IT teams. He frequently speaks and writes on a wide range of subjects related to his vision of the future of IT. You can follow him on Twitter as @charlesaraujo.


This article was originally published on 03-20-2013
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