4 steps to supercharge IT leaders

The best leaders know how to take unexpected challenges in stride. Here’s how the MOVE model can help you expand your leadership skills
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As an IT leader, you know how to make the most of every moment. You’ve honed your reflexes, so if you see A and B, then you know to react with C.

That pattern recognition works well for day-to-day challenges, but when was the last time you were in a stable operating environment? You never know when you will experience a new type of cyberattack or need to play offense or defense with new mobile-connected device constellations or AI applications. And the list goes on.

When facing a new opportunity of a more extensive scale or scope than you’ve experienced before or staring down a new type of crisis, applying your reflexes may take you in the wrong direction and could even be fatal. Those situations require you to stretch from being a great leader to being extraordinary.

[ Also read IT leadership: 4 resolutions for 2023. ]

You can apply the MOVE model, a four-step playbook for leadership. MOVE is an acronym – Mindful, Options, Validate, Engage – that helps you overcome and go beyond your reflexes to handle new types of terrain.

M: Be mindfully alert to your 3D leadership priorities

Gone are the days of the one-dimensional leader, who is maniacally focused on results but burns out their team. Or who may deeply care about their people but have difficulty holding them accountable. Or who is a brilliant subject matter expert but doesn’t know how to relate effectively to others.

These days, you need to be a three-dimensional leader. That means:

  • You are clear on goals. You know what you need or want to get done. This is the external dimension of leadership.
  • You know who you want to be as a person. What character strengths and values do you want to define you? This is the internal dimension.
  • You understand how to relate to others, unlock their potential, and achieve goals together. This is the interpersonal dimension.

To become a 3D IT leader, slow down and name your most important goals. That sounds straightforward, but many leaders are not explicit about what constitutes a “win,” whether facing a split-second decision or executing a multi-year transformation. Describe it in terms of “who, what, when, where, and why” (the “how” comes later).

Here’s an example:

Who: My leadership team

What: Increase alignment on our new IT strategy

When: In the next six weeks, before the end of the calendar quarter

Where: Focus on our international business units and international finance team, which have the most significant misalignment

Why: The company is embarking on a game-changing transformation, and everyone must be on board

Next, name your most important character strengths – things like perspective, generosity, fairness, and listening. These strengths infuse what you say and do as a leader and inspire others to follow or collaborate with you. Always keep an eye on whether you are living your values. And while you’re at it, pick a new character strength to work on developing so you are always aspiring to be an even better human.

Finally, think about how you typically relate to others. Do you lean in hard and give a lot of guidance or direction? Do you tend to lean back to gather more data and ask many questions? Is your instinct to support and encourage others?

Each of these styles is valuable, depending on the situation. Instead of deploying a flexible approach, though, most of us have a default style based on treating others how we would like to be treated. But to unlock others’ potential, we must treat them the way they want to be treated. For example, giving a “rah-rah” speech to an introvert might be intimidating. Match your interpersonal style to the situation.

Applying this to the alignment example, if your reflex is to lead by leaning in and doubling down on your position when you engage with the international team, instead try asking them questions about what is most important to them.

O: Generate options

IT leaders understand well that it’s not just willpower that leads to success; it’s also “way power,” or the “how” of achieving your goals. Being able to find a pathway forward is just the starting point. Leaders today must be able to pivot in real time when a new opportunity, obstacle, or crisis surfaces. The more options you have, the more likely you are to achieve your goals.

Consider the example of a complex digital initiative. Let’s say you’ve identified a way forward plus a backup plan for your top purposes. Implementation will almost certainly be nonlinear. What happens when you hit obstacles?

Anticipate what could happen by developing a range of scenarios beyond the base case, including high, low, best, and worst cases. Generating contingency plans for each scenario gives you additional options to activate if and when needed.

V: Validate your vantage point

Many things cloud or limit our vision or even blindside us. We are all affected by our personalities, beliefs, and assumptions. We are also affected by the data that we choose to rely on. How can you be more confident that what you’re seeing is real?

Start by taking another look at your external priorities. You might be exaggerating or discounting the opportunities or threats that you see. For example, is there a new technology you might be underestimating, or are you perhaps overly optimistic about progress in your most important EAS implementation? How confident are you about timing for essential deliverables on your critical path? How do you see support and obstacles inside your organization?

Pause and ask yourself and others inside and outside of your organization how you might be wrong or what you might be missing.

E: Engage and effect change at scale

Now it’s time to MOVE as a leader of leaders.

It’s crucial to strike the right balance between giving too little and too much direction while sending exemplary leadership signals to others to amplify your impact. A key signal is what I call Leader’s Intent. Often formed in collaboration with your team, it expresses:

  • What you need to accomplish, what destination you are all headed toward, and why it matters (from your 3D priorities)
  • How you will get there together (this draws from options)
  • What signposts will tell us along the way that you’re winning (this is from a vantage point)

Intent allows leaders to decentralize the mission so that everyone in the organization understands what is most important and how to make decisions.

Facing new types of opportunities and challenges in IT requires a new kind of leadership in real time. Always remember what you need to achieve, what type of person you want and need to be as a leader, and how to best relate to others. Next, generate multiple options to meet your goals while checking that you have a good take on reality. Then scale your impact across your organization by giving clear directional signals through your Leader’s Intent.

[ Ready to level up your communication skills? Get advice from IT leaders. Download our Ebook: 10 resources to make you a better communicator. ]

David Noble is a coach and strategist, working with top IT leaders and their teams. David has served as a Managing Partner at two global strategy consultancies, and prior to that he was a CEO. David was named by Thinkers 50 as one of the world’s top coaches, and is a senior advisor to the Institute of Coaching, Egon Zehnder, and Oliver Wyman group.