In the technology world, where innovation is prized, the great leaders who come to mind almost immediately include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. The admirable leadership skills of these individuals, combined with their visionary approach to solving business problems, sets them apart in a highly competitive industry. Their achievements have had a huge impact on people in all walks of life.
Whether you're in a management position or looking to advance your career in this dynamic, rapidly growing field, it helps to know which skills you need to develop in order to become a great leader. With a huge push to modernize business processes by implementing the latest IT advancements, technology talent is in high demand, making the unemployment rate for technology pros low. Managers who are under pressure to complete these important initiatives can’t afford to lose team members, so providing them with great leadership is especially important today.
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A recent Robert Half Technology survey of 8,000 North American IT professionals yields some useful insights on characteristics that are most important for leadership. Here are four qualities of a leader in the field and some steps you can take to grow into that role:
1. Strengthen employee confidence
As John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, affirms, "IT professionals want to be empowered to solve business problems, and the best leaders find ways to optimize the talents of their team.” A full 32 percent of participants in our survey believe that trusting and empowering employees is the most important attribute of a great technology leader.
Great leaders want their people to feel confident, successful and happy. They make an effort to empower valued employees by giving them opportunities to contribute their ideas and put them into practice, while also offering guidance when needed and without hovering or micro-managing. Technology professionals who work in an environment where trust, respect and collaboration prevail show more initiative and feel more confident about their ability to tackle tough problems and create viable solutions.
Regardless of your current job, educating yourself about how the work done by the technology team impacts the company’s operations and even the bottom line will serve you well as you climb up the ladder. Sharing this knowledge with your employees will help them understand how they fit into the big picture and shows them how the work they do is essential to the organization’s overall success.
2. Walk your talk
Technology employees not only need to be trusted, they also need to feel that they can trust their managers. They are motivated by leaders who serve the best interests of the company, its employees and its customers. IT professionals want to feel that their leaders are concerned less about being right than about doing the right thing. As a leader, you will be judged by your actions rather than by your words.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army or in an office.” Leaders who act with integrity and are honest contribute to the success of the organization as a whole and maximize the contributions of their own team.
True leaders treat everyone fairly and hold themselves accountable. They’re not afraid of admitting their mistakes and showing that they can be human and, therefore, both vulnerable and imperfect. If you aspire to a senior management position, a great way to do some self-assessment is to conduct an informal audit with your colleagues to gain insights on what you do well already and what you can do better. Regardless of your current role in technology, start by setting a good example for your peers or staff and behave as you imagine a great leader would behave—by treating everyone with respect, doing your best work and never engaging in hurtful gossip or unfounded criticism.
3. Focus on the big picture and evolve your vision
In the field of technology, which is driven by constant change and new developments, it’s easy to get lost in the details of daily operations and urgent situations. But great technology leaders see beyond day-to-day demands and set their sights on improving processes and workflows, and optimizing the business by recommending adoption of appropriate technology advancements. In other words, they have vision. In our research, 17 percent of participants felt that having a vision and feeling confident that it can be realized is the mark of a great leader.
You can prepare yourself now by gaining an understanding of your organization’s business goals, how it operates and where improvements need to be made. It’s also essential to make sure you’re up to speed on technology advancements, solutions and trends that can support your vision and move it forward. Additionally, you’ll want to hone your communication and presentation skills so you can persuasively present your vision and master plan to your staff, colleagues and executives.
4. Innovate and inspire
Enthusiasm is infectious. Leaders who are genuinely positive can’t help but motivate others. In our survey of IT professionals, 15 percent stated that a bright and optimistic outlook is an essential leadership trait. In addition to a positive attitude, inventiveness and creativity topped the list for some 10 percent of survey participants.
As a future leader, you need to start with yourself. Instead of sticking with the tried-and-true, look at things from different angles and don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’re a manager, encourage your people to come up with novel solutions to technical problems. When you step into a leadership role, you’ll be better prepared to marshal the creative horsepower of your team, which will lead to greater employee engagement and increased productivity.
Just as you’ve worked hard to acquire technical skills, you can also train yourself to become a great technology leader. While not everyone can become a Silicon Valley superstar overnight, you can gain leadership skills through self-awareness and a commitment to building the “soft skills” we’ve discussed here.
Find out more about current IT hiring and compensation trends in our Salary Guide.