IT leadership: 3 training tips

Strong leadership is a skill that requires training and practice. Consider this expert advice on how training can help your IT leaders shine
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Are your IT managers better at managing technology than they are at leading their teams? If your organization is like many IT groups, then your honest answer is probably a solid “Yes.”

In most IT organizations, the best tech leads are promoted into management positions because they are good at managing technologies. But once they are in a management role, many new leaders struggle to provide effective leadership, and team productivity and morale often suffer as a result.

Once you and your managers agree on what performance changes need to happen, use the following three tips to provide more effective leadership training.

1. Be clear about your expectations

It’s essential to clearly articulate what behavioral changes you want to help your managers make. If the desired outcome is not crystal clear, your training program will not be effective, and your managers will not achieve the needed performance improvements. Establishing goals will also enable you to identify what topics to prioritize in your training programs.

For example, you might want to focus your leadership training on soft skills, which help leaders interact more effectively with others. Or perhaps your leaders need to be more process-oriented to improve operational efficiency and project management. Is your organization driving digital transformation, where you are looking for your leaders to be more innovative in designing solutions to business challenges and problems? These are all common objectives for IT leadership training.

[ Improve your communication and other soft skills: How to build soft skills: 10 must-read books. ]

One of my clients recently sent me a note that expresses this challenge: “At a minimum, we want to offer some industry training, subject matter training, company processes training, and corporate culture training (which is already a lot). However, the more folks you ask, the longer the list becomes! I think part of the task will be to find a way to prioritize what is the most important/fundamental.”

2. Decide on a specific training approach and format

Do you want traditional “butts in seats” classroom sessions? In or out of the office? Or would you prefer online programs, either self-paced self-study or real-time interactive group sessions? Do you want to focus on a training intensive where your managers train for one to five days straight? Or would you rather break it up into shorter sessions that extend over a longer timeframe?

Most of my clients find that self-study quickly devolves into “no study” as day-to-day firefighting and project deadlines cause managers to keep deferring their self-study work. On the other hand, a multi-day off-site classroom training program almost always gets your managers to complete the course curriculum. But this approach also has its problems. All too often the participants walk away with lots of interesting information and tools but are overwhelmed by the amount of change they feel they need to make. When they get back into their “real world,” they quickly forget about applying all that great information they absorbed. The net result is little to no change in leadership performance.

One approach that can help address this issue is to follow up with accountability coaching. This can be as simple as having the student’s manager be engaged for several months after the class ends. Managers should have their students review with them the action items they took away from the course, and then check in once or twice a month on the actual progress students making with those action items. 

Break down training topics into small, easily digestible chunks that can readily fit into busy schedules, and mix short presentations of topical content followed by small-group interaction.

This approach is simple enough to implement, but it can be difficult in practice. The reality is that few sponsoring managers can find the time for regular one-on-one conversations – and if they do have regular meetings, they tend to focus instead on project status and operational problem-solving. (Sound familiar?)

3. Consider a hybrid approach

The most effective approach may be a combination of ideas. It should break down the training topics into small, easily digestible chunks that can readily fit into busy schedules. It should mix short presentations of topical content (which can be farmed out to the group members), followed by small-group interaction in how to apply one or two action items from that content.

This hybrid approach should also include sharing of lessons learned and group coaching, especially for students who apply what they learn but are not getting the results that they want and expect.

This type of leadership training is sometimes called a mastermind group. These might comprise a fixed group of professionals with common backgrounds and interests who meet once a week for less than an hour. They might begin with a 10-15 minute presentation on a focused topic, then spend a few minutes on their own identifying one or two ways to apply something they’ve learned.

This could be followed up with breakout groups of 3-4 people (easily done within Zoom sessions) where they describe their action plan, discuss any concerns or challenges, and get feedback from other group members. Finally, the breakout groups reconvene in the main session, where a designated facilitator (perhaps the team’s leader or an HR representative) helps them share lessons learned and problems that need further resolution.

Three steps to better training

  • Ensure that every leader understands their role and critical success factors as organizational leaders.
  • Clarify what skills need to be improved and identify training topics to enable those improvements.
  • Identify or create one or more programs with a format that ensures consistent participation and accountability for making progress.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Bob helps IT managers and teams get more done while improving user relationships and reducing organizational conflict. He provides online training as well as group and 1:1 coaching programs that get problems solved fast.