7 mindsets of the most effective IT leaders

7 mindsets of the most effective IT leaders

It's more important to be effective than correct: One of seven mindsets that have fueled my leadership career – and might fuel yours

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April 11, 2019

Developing great leaders is about showing them better ways to think. This helps them to operate more quickly, with more eloquence, and with more confidence, which ultimately makes them more effective and successful.

I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career who did this with me, and along the way I’ve developed my own leadership principles that I impart onto others. The following leadership tips have made me a better leader, and they’re mindsets that I encourage budding leaders to consider and adopt. I call them the Seven Magnificent Leadership Tips, and they have helped me and my teams grow and be more successful. 

[ Do you match the decision-making style to the problem? Read also: 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide. ]

1. Seriously respect the incumbent

Any time you’re in a new leadership role – whether it’s starting a new job or taking over a new organization in an existing environment – you need to respect the incumbent, whether that’s a belief system, culture, person, role, or identity of the existing environment. If you don’t, folks dig in their foxholes and they’ll make your job more difficult.

Identify what or who those incumbents are and fully respect that someone’s been doing what they’ve been doing for quite some time. Their way is very important to them. Bulldozing through a meeting or situation and declaring their method inefficient won’t score you points; winning people over requires more respect. 

2. It’s ok to be a jerk – but don’t be a Jerk

Patrick Lencioni talks about the "Jerk Factor" in which sometimes leaders have to be jerks to push a person or team outside their comfort zones in order to make them better. In other words: Leaders must be comfortable making decisions that won’t always make everyone happy

The key is not to be a capital-J Jerk, in other words, a leader who demonstrates harshness and attitude without reason and when the greater good of the team is not a factor, Lencioni says. In other words: Leaders must be comfortable making decisions that won’t always make everyone happy. 

[ How does your EQ stack up? Read our related article, 8 powerful phrases of emotionally intelligent leaders. ]

3. Always be prepared

This may seem like obvious advice, but there is simply nothing else more crucial to creating success than being prepared. Preparation builds confidence and authority exponentially faster and more effectively than almost any other single behavioral improvement. 

The more you have practiced and the farther ahead you can think through the moves, the more successful you will be.

Prepare for the basic things like meetings or presentations for sure, but also be prepared for the unexpected. Do your research ahead of time. Build your "toolkit" of artifacts, talk-tracks, and responses. Preparation is also practice. Business is like a game of chess. The more you have practiced and the farther ahead you can think through the moves, the more successful you will be.

4. It’s okay not to know everything

People are scared to admit when they don’t have all the answers. Not knowing everything is really refreshing, though, and it’s something I encourage leaders to do outside the boardroom. When you pretend to have all the answers, you tend to miss out on the big picture because you’re not digging deeper into the issue. If you’re in an interview, it’s okay to answer a question with “I don’t know.” If you’re approached with a question during a project, it’s fine to admit that you don’t have the answer. Take some time to think about the question, find the answer, then circle back. 


Robert Walden is Chief Information Officer at Epsilon, where he is responsible for cybersecurity and global infrastructure services for Epsilon's portfolio of client-facing products and solutions, as well as internal corporate IT services. He has been delivering business value through technology for more than 15 years, with a broad background in IT that covers financial services, manufacturing, retail, consulting, and marketing services.

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