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3 Underappreciated IT Leadership Skills?

| October 20, 2014

by Jim Bruce

The Tuesday Reading today is “3 Underappreciated IT Leadership Skills?”, a commentary appearing this past July in Information Week.  The essay’s authors are Whitney Hischier and Rajiv Ball, lecturers at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business where they teach the Business Leadership for IT Professionals program.

Ball and Hischier note that today’s world is far more VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous – than ever before.  In this context IT leaders are being asked to transform their organizations from being cost centers and order takers to providing competitive advantage and being strategic partners.  And, this needs to be done while reducing costs, demonstrating IT value-for-money, and providing improved services to clients.  No small feat!

Discussions with Silicon Valley CIOs point out that IT leaders are also being called to step beyond their support function to become architects and shapers of business strategy.  Ball and Hischier believe this requires three new competencies:

1.  Problem finding, problem solving.  To be a strategic partner to the business, IT leaders must be able to proactively define new opportunities, not just work on projects defined by the business unit.  “Problem finding, problem solving” points to a structured problem solving approach anchored in design thinking.  It requires rolling up one’s sleeves and working with business leaders to identify the problems and develop the solutions.  Such work, done together, will reduce our tendency, too often, to solve the wrong problem.  To work together at this level requires a solid, trusting relationship between the two parties.  

2.  Be a true peer and sparring partner to business.  To be both peer and (sparring) partner to the business, IT leaders must have a deeper understanding of the business – this is not just working on projects handed off by business units.  IT leaders need to articulate their own ideas and perspective and do so in a way that resonates across the organizational boundaries.  This requires that both IT and business leaders work hard to communicate in a language accessible to the other.

3.  Move others to action.  Impact requires more than having the right answer, it requires that you bring others along on the problem finding, problem solving journey and move everyone to action.  Nurturing and sustaining trusted, mutually supportive relationships is crucial.  And, so is the ability to influence without authority.

These competencies won’t just happen.  Building them requires hard work, being willing to re-examine the competencies required for IT leadership, and perhaps even deliberately having some IT professionals exchange places with staff in business units for some defined period of time.

Are these skills you need to have?  Do give it some thought and work this week.  .  .  .    jim