Finding Your Leadership Style as a Technology Manager

Dr. Patrick Desbrow, Ed.D., CIO & VP-Engineering, CrownPeak
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Dr. Patrick Desbrow, Ed.D., CIO & VP-Engineering, CrownPeak

Difference between a Manager and a Leader

A lot has been written about the differences between management and leadership. Less has been written about the path IT Managers must follow in order to become IT Leaders. As IT Managers, we focus on projects, timelines, and the physical assets of the company. Deep thoughts and great efforts have been put into the proper allocation of assets, budgets, and technology resources. Consider some of the traditional words we associate with IT management: Plan, Budget, Provision, Organize, Categorize, Summarize, etc. None of these keywords should be associated with people.

When we change our focus to our staff, we are using our leadership skills. The best leaders can bring a group of well-trained technologists together and reach very high levels of productivity and organizational success. Leaders use a different set of words such as: Attract, Inspire, Enable, Guide, Coach, Mentor, and more.

The Common Leadership Styles in IT Industry

Leaders come in many different forms. They share the skills and inspiration to create teams of followers. Each member of the team believes in the message and chooses to become part of something greater. This is the power of leadership. For IT Leaders, this means creating a High Perform Team (HPT) culture in your organization. This can work for all of the groups under your responsibility whether their focus is software development, quality assurance, IT operations, help desk support, etc.

  The best leaders can bring a group of well-trained technologists together and reach very high levels of productivity and organizational success  

J. Thomas Wren in his book, “The Leader’s Companion” inventoried numerous leadership styles. However, only a subset of these leadership styles appears to thrive in IT organizations. Let’s look at a few of the most popular: Authority-Compliance, Situational Leader, Servant Leader, and Transformational Leader.

The Authority-Compliance style of leadership (Blake and Mouton, 1964) is results-driven and employees are seen only as tools to accomplish these results. As a result, there is a moderate to low concern for people and the senior managers employ a rigid hierarchical structure in their departments. It can appear that IT managers are disorganized and lack a clear vision. This environment can create uncertainty for employees who work best in a structured environment and require positive feedback for a job well done. If this Leadership style exists in your organization, consider other methods.

The Situational style of leadership strives to improve the organizational culture and fosters a high performing team focus. This approach emphasizes that different situations demand different types of leadership (North house, 1997). This leadership style is both directive and supportive. IT Leaders encourage the use of Directing, Coaching, and Delegating relationships with their employees depending upon what the situation required. The employee’s environment is less ridged and has more ebb and flow. This environment is more conducive for employee’s who like to be a part of a team.

The Servant style of leadership, as the name would suggest, is a service oriented role. This leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, helps their staff develop new skills and performs at a very high level (Greenleaf, 1911). This Servant Leader will step in and do the tasks that are unpopular. This Leader will also be a great team facilitator who leverages adult learning theory methods in order to teach and inspire the employee to be as great as he or she can be.

The Transformational style of leadership focuses on change within an organization. This leader works with their staff to create a shared vision for the future and then guides the change process using their organizational skills and inspirational actions. They strive to enhance the motivation, morale, and productivity of each team throughout the organization. These endeavors take time, training, and patience for the transformation to take place. The change often starts with the IT Leader and will flow throughout the IT Organization.

Finding your leadership style

There is a straight forward path for IT Managers to add Leadership to their list of executive skills. Technologists are accustomed to learning new skills on almost a continuous basis. New hardware, software, and virtualized solutions arrive in the market yearly. IT Managers are expected to stay current on these innovations by researching, evaluating, and determining where they may fit it in their technology roadmap. Adding Leadership to your skillset should be just as easy. However, in practice, it proves to be far more difficult. These new skills may seem very different but they can be incorporated into your skillset in a very familiar way. Here is a way to get started down the path to your Leadership style:

1. Add leadership topics to your reading list
2. Study a number of different styles including: Situational, Servant, Transformational, Visionary
3. Start a journal on leadership topics and write down the styles that are compelling to you
4. Identify the characteristics that are already part of your style
5. Accept the characteristics that you need to improve on
6. Create your own inspirational message based on your new found style
7. Add this new language into your daily interactions as a way to create followership
8. Focus on what you say in meetings, how you write your emails, and the tone of your presentations
9. Study your fellow leaders and analyze their leadership style
10. Find a mentor and incorporate some of their best tracts into your own style

Now, act like a leader

In the end, the best way to act like a leader in your IT organization is to find your leadership style and focus on communication and team building. Two excellent books to consider reading are “Leadership & The Art of Conversation” written by Kim Krisco and “Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit” written by Lee Bolman. Each of these books examines the path a manager takes on the ways to becoming a great leader.

Additionally, leaders build high performing teams by investing in their staff. Managers typically only have a primary relationship with their employees. They expect employees to come to work, take direction, and do their best. However, Leaders invest in their staff and create a secondary relationship. Leaders give staff members choices (project assignments), provide regular coaching opportunities, and show them a path to the next step in their career.

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