The Art of Being a Great IT Leader

By Charles Araujo

In my last two CIO Insight articles, I first called out to all IT professionals to become IT leaders and next described the four roles of the new IT leader.  But what does that word—leader—really mean? Leadership may be both the most written about and most discussed term in the modern business lexicon—and yet the most widely misunderstood.

I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to throwing around the term. I often catch myself talking about “senior leadership” when what I am really talking about is the senior management team. Yes, too many of us are guilty of using the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. But they are not interchangeable. While we may hope that our senior executives are leaders, we have all experienced far too many executives who were the exact opposite. At the same time, we are entering an era in which leadership skills must be present at every level of an organization, not just with senior management. So, what does it mean to be a great IT leader?

I sat down recently with Cameron Cosgrove, vice president of application development for First American. We got together to discuss the recent efforts with DevOps, but instead I got a master class in leadership. As Cameron and I talked, it occurred to me that while there is a certain amount of “art” to leadership, there are also a clear set of practices that one can internalize and adopt to make themselves a better leader. Specifically, I observed four key elements of the art of leadership, as demonstrated by Cameron and his work at First American, and I think they are something we can all learn from.

Great Leaders Are Visionaries

When we hear the word “visionary” we tend to think in terms of big thinkers, people who change the world. They appear to be a rarified breed of human. If the challenge is for each of us to become IT leaders, then we can’t all be expected to be this kind of rare visionary, can we? But I think of a visionary as something different. I see a visionary as someone who simply has a vision of a future somehow unimagined by others and who is willing to share that vision and lead others toward it. The vision doesn’t necessarily have to be the “change the world” variety or operate on a grand scale to be powerful.

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