10 signs of successful IT leaders in the next normal

In upcoming months, what will separate good from great IT leaders? You'll need to do these 10 things - and avoid the urge to micromanage
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Employees have a lot of needs going into the post-pandemic normal. They need to figure out a new work-life blend as offices start to open back up. They need to feel out what level of in-person interaction feels safe and comfortable to them. They need flexibility and psychological safety in their roles as they navigate continued change. 

Managers play an important role in helping people through times of transition, and those who do this well will be successful in the next normal. Traits like adaptability and self-awareness will be key, but so will intentional actions, like avoiding the urge to micromanage. 

[ How are leaders prioritizing as they craft a model combining remote and office work? Read also: Hybrid work model: Qualcomm IT, HR execs share 6 priorities for leaders. ]

10 things today's strongest IT leaders do well

If you are leading team into the next normal, you’ll need to focus on these abilities:

1. Adapt to constant change

“Being able to adapt to constantly changing technology is a key trait. We are in the age of AI and technologies that require a lot of business knowledge, and the speed to market and ability (and opportunity) to make changes faster than ever has become more and more important, so IT managers need to be ready to respond to that,” said Jeff Fields, CIO at Servpro

“I think another important trait is to deeply understand how your business works and how technology will help your customers. It’s important to know what applied technologies and collaborative tools will help your employees do their jobs better so that you provide the service your customers need, when they need it. I think the remote world we’ve all known throughout the past year has certainly emphasized the importance of this, but I think it’s key for managers no matter what the circumstances.”

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

2. Make decisions amidst uncertainty

“We are in the fourth industrial revolution, a time marked by the interconnection of physical, biological and digital worlds. As these worlds integrate, intelligent ecosystems form and give rise to ‘big bang disruptions,’ thus transforming entire systems, creating and destroying entire product lines, markets and ecosystems overnight,” said Jenai Marinkovic, vChief Technology and Security Officer with Tiro Security, and a member of the ISACA Emerging Trends Working Group. 

“In the near-normal where disruptions such as the pandemic accelerated the adoption of diverse emergent technologies, predicated by rapid changes in business strategies, the managers of tomorrow need to become more comfortable with decision making in conditions of extreme uncertainty. IT managers who become ‘design thinkers’ are able to leverage design concepts such as empathy, ideation, and prototyping to identify and employ the alternative ideas and solutions necessary to navigate this rapidly changing world,” she said. 

3. Be a coach

“The day you were promoted to manage a team of managers was the day your job ceased to be managing technology. From that point on, your job has been to inspire and enable the members of your teams to be their professional best every day, and to become better and better each day. Leadership today is not about solving problems or delivering solutions – it’s about helping the rest of your organization do that. And the primary approach to make that happen is coaching,” said IT Management Consultant and IT Leadership Coach, Bob Kantor.

[ Get Kantor’s 8 tips on how to be a great coach here. ]

4. Demonstrate self-awareness

“Having studied, mentored, and trained IT leaders for more than three decades, I have found that those who are self aware have a distinct advantage. There are a new set of expectations today we refer to as ‘power competencies’ that differentiate high performing leaders, including influencing without direct power, leading change, and the ability to communicate in a noisy world. Leaders must be aware of their strengths and where they have opportunities to grow,” said Dan Roberts, CEO of Ouellette & Associates Consulting

5. Avoid micromanagement

“Being a people's manager doesn't give you the right to be nosey all the time,” said Vishwastam Shukla, CTO of HackerEarth. “A good manager knows how to balance being available for a heart-to-heart with practiced detachment. You need to trust your teammates and give them the space needed for them to do their thing, without asking for a minute-by-minute commentary, or prying into every single aspect of their lives.”

6. Build blended teams for the hybrid work model

“Some of your people will be on-site and some will be remote. The successful manager builds teams that have both onsite and remote workers and solves all of the challenges that creates for the team,” said Rich Theil, CEO of The Noble Foundry.
“Instead of forgetting about the remote people during a meeting, they should be valued as an equal team member. Instead of having coffee with folks onsite and learning about their personal world, you're also having remote virtual coffee to learn about their personal world. The key is valuing each person individually and continually discussing the patterns of work that are helpful for the blended team and the ones that need to change,” he said.

7. See people as individuals

“Golden hammers don't work with people. Your team is a set of very different individuals and hence you must approach them differently, too,” said Shukla. “Think of your team as a Swiss Army Knife - multiple tools packed compactly for maximum effect. Understand every individual's strengths and help them map them to their function, and deliver efficiently.”

8. Manage team productivity remotely

“In the next normal, the most successful IT managers will be those who are able to adapt to effectively managing team productivity remotely. They should be able to collaborate, ensure regular communication, be flexible and patient with their teams,” said Sampa David Sampa, regional senior IT auditor, World Vision International, and member of the ISACA Emerging Trends Working Group.

9. Prepare for the future

“Your primary responsibility is not to drive your team. Most often, you should be busy laying the road ahead for them,” said Shukla. “A good manager should have the ability to foresee what individuals on their team would be faced with in the future. A manager's time and judgment are better utilized in preparing for that future rather than driving the team on daily chores.” 

10. Be kind and curious

“Our job as leaders is to bring the best out of our people,” said David Egts, chief technologist, North America Public Sector, Red Hat. “When our teams are remote and almost all engagements are pre-arranged, we may not have the casual and serendipitous breakroom time to catch up on their joys and concerns at both work and home. As such, we need to be deliberate about connecting with our teams on a personal level.” 

“Curiosity is key, and in order to be curious, you need to be present. This means giving your team your undivided attention and eliminating distractions. Curiosity can help you uncover not only how people feel but why they feel the way they feel,” he said. “Kindness is also critical. When your team shares their vulnerability with you, you need to reciprocate with understanding and kindness. Your kindness is necessary to have empathy for your team members and the challenges they face. Being kind to yourself is also something all leaders often overlook too. Don't forget to be good to yourself.”

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.