You probably already know some of the top challenges that IT leaders will face in 2022 – finding (and retaining) top talent, keeping up with security challenges, and managing remote teams.
But what if I told you that your biggest challenge this year might be yourself?
Leadership can be challenging, and leadership in IT has become especially so over the past two years. As an IT and finance leader navigating a global pandemic myself, I can say without a doubt that the past two years have been transformative – both in business and in my leadership style.
So how can you tackle your flaws and become a better leader? Here are four tips:
1. Understand your leadership style
The first step to tackling your flaws is unpacking them. Examine your leadership style and consider its positive and negative attributes. If your leadership style is authoritarian, for example, your team members are likely very clear about the task at hand. The downside? They may see you as bossy or controlling.
[ Also read: IT leadership: 4 tips on achieving your goals in 2022. ]
The best leaders use several management styles, depending on the situation. It’s essential to know your default mechanism to be able to catch yourself managing poorly. Ask yourself:
- How am I managing this situation? Could I be better?
- Do I need to involve the group more? Less? What’s most appropriate?
- How can I support my team through this?
The pandemic changed the way COOs, CIOs, and tech leaders do business. Sixty-six percent of CIOs reported increasing the strength of their relationship with their CEOs during the pandemic, and 80 percent say that they’re now educating senior leaders about the value of IT, according to Gartner’s 2021 CIO Agenda.
These stats reflect fantastic news: When everyone understands the “why” behind what they’re trying to achieve, success rates soar. So how can you be more collaborative as a leader? The team at Slack shared their best ideas:
Clarify a common purpose. This is essential – your team needs to know what you’re trying to achieve and how. If you can’t articulate a clear overarching goal for your business or project, then it’s time to take a step back to look at the bigger picture.
Our executive team meets regularly, for example, but we also conduct monthly and quarterly strategy meetings to work on the business rather than in the business. This is when we define (and redefine if necessary) the business’s goals and initiatives. After each strategy meeting, we communicate these goals to our entire back-office team. Communication regarding the common purpose is crucial, as everyone on the team needs to buy in for success.
Keep communication lines open. Excellent communication is all about purposeful conversations. Before I start a conversation, I ask myself: How will this discussion further the business’s goals, and what decisions need to be made? Soliciting input from team members with specialized knowledge and subject matter expertise also leads to more effective and accurate decisions, driving the business towards the collective goal or purpose.
3. Plan for problems
As an IT and Operations professional, I find that we’re good at systems – but when things go off the rails and don’t work exactly as expected, it brings out our worst.
For example, our team implemented a new software product a few years ago. Unfortunately, the software had more than a few bugs, and those bugs started (inevitably) buzzing around as team members and managers got stuck in the nitty-gritty.
As a result, it was a very stressful implementation and rollout. I did learn from the experience, though – and I’ve since created a three-part problem-planning system:
Predict problems: This is essential – it’s an opportunity to catastrophize. When my team comes to me with a new idea or interest in introducing a new system to our platform, I think about all pros and cons, including everything that could go wrong. I start by asking questions such as “How will this impact our team?”, “How will this impact our financial professionals?”, and “What did we learn last time we did a project like this?” Then I write them all down. This gives me a sense of control, allowing me to see which problems could happen and plan accordingly.
Pick your top three: Once you have your list, choose the top three most-likely problems and ask yourself: What are you going to do if those problems happen? Simply having the plan often makes me feel better.
Communicate these plans to your staff: If everyone is on board, everyone will know what to do when the problem strikes – eliminating any less-than-stellar leadership moments.
4. Embrace vulnerability
I’ll be the first to say that being vulnerable as an IT and Operations professional is challenging. Yet employees want their leaders to be more vulnerable. So how can IT leaders be more vulnerable at work?
[ Read also: IT leadership: 4 ways to boost your emotional intelligence ]
Initiate: Few employees will offer you their ideas about making things better without a nudge. Tell your team members that you’re facing challenges and ask for their ideas while expressing confidence in their skills.
Speak concretely: Avoid hyperbolic statements like “Our industry is crumbling.” Instead, stick to the facts. Your goal is to inform, not terrify.
Thank your team: Let your employees know how great you think they are – it’s a crucial part of vulnerable leadership, and it can help them rise to the challenges you’re facing.
Leadership is complex, and solutions aren’t always clear. But by owning and addressing your flaws, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a more effective leader.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]