10 Effective Leadership Traits for IT Professionals

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My First Three Questions

There comes a point when you are put in charge of a new team and you have to do the initial “1:1 Getting to Know Each Other.”  I know when I used to get a new Lead/Manager/Director I dreaded the meeting.  Are they going to be cool/egotistical/firm/fair/harsh?  Are they going to talk about how they did things at their previous spot and/or team?  That is why I keep my introduction simple and easy by asking three questions.  What do you like doing?  What do you not like doing?  What is a goal of yours?  I attempt to break up the workload into a 2/3rds like and 1/3rd dislikes.  I hope people respect that I acknowledge no one likes every aspect of their job but there can be a healthy balance.  Finally, What is a Personal/Professional goal of yours?  I genuinely care what my team members are focusing on and i set calendar reminders to follow up to show them that I do care.  It could be finishing more on the weekends, spending more time with their children, or pursuing a new certification.  If their goal is important o them then it is important to me and I will make sure to follow up to see how they are progressing.

Give a Target, Not Tasks

The best leaders I ever served under would provide me a target/destination and tell me to go to work.  In my careers I have always hated being micro-managed and swore I would never manage by an excel sheet or be a micro-manager myself.  During my weekly or bi-weekly teams meetings I will give the team a new target handed down from above.  I will ask for an outline of a plan so I understand what guidelines need to be in place to help them reach the target.  Also, these meetings are great for updates on current projects and how the team is progressing towards hitting the target.  More times than not, my team will come up with some clever out of the box thinking type ways to reach our goals because they have been enabled to be innovative.  

Let Go, Let Flow

This was my first major obstacle when leading a team I have to individually overcome.  I have always been a specialist and would drill my craft till I couldn’t get it wrong. When I first started leading teams it was difficult to not jump in and perform the work myself.  I learned when you do this you become the bottleneck and you prevent your team from growing.  Now my approach is to delegate the work to my team and trust it will get done.  I quickly noticed that many hands make for light work and more work can get done.  However, my door is always open if a team member wants to bounce an idea off of me. 

You have an Idea, Awesome, How can I help?

Throughout my IT career I have always enjoyed helping others.  Even early on when I was able to help others I got a sense of joy out of watching others succeed.  That is a guiding principle I have brought to leadership roles.  I have witnessed firsthand that innovation is key during this era of digital disruption.  The quickest way to stifle innovation is to introduce fear into your culture.  That is why I am always open to hearing new and innovative ideas from my teams and the initial requirements to get the proposal off the ground.  I cannot always guarantee I can sell the proposal upstairs but I will always try and it may just require some tweaking.  The important thing is my team know that I am willing to try on their behalf.

Give Trust to Build Trust

This one I would figure would be an easy one to understand but I often find other leaders struggling with this.  It is pretty simple, you give trust so that the resources can build more trust.  I am not saying on the first day turn over the keys to the kingdom but every interaction trust is exchanged between people.  Start off with some small tasks and as the resources prove they will do the right thing then you continue to trust the resource until that trust is violated.  As long as the violation was not to the degree warranting termination then start small again and allow that resource to build trust.  I have seen many times in my life teams fail to reach their objectives because they did not trust the person leading them.  You’ll notice as you give trust and allow resources to build trust with you then you are also allowing them to give you trust and allow you to build trust with them. 

You may be a Pro or Terrible at Work Life Balance but You Need to Ensure WLB for Your Team

I will be the first to admit I am terrible at work life balance.  When I am not spending time with my wife or daughter I have my nose in a ThinkPad, laptop, or interface.  Technology was my hobby that became my career and with my passion to always be learning it was a perfect marriage.  I respect that not everyone is built this way and I also acknowledge the negative impacts this way of living can have.  That is why I always make sure my teams aren’t working a hundred hours a week and have the ability to unplug and relax.  When I have a team member that is built like me I attempt to let them know that it is alright to close the laptop from time to time and enjoy the fruits of their labor. 

I Want the Mötley Crüe

We’ve all worked with the people who are difficult, stuck on their opinions, complain about leadership, but are really talented.  They can also be the people who have their own colorful personalities that clash with traditional leadership.  Everywhere I go that I am put into a leadership role I always seem to inherit these individuals and I just smile because I know  lot of work is about to get done.  I lead on a 1:1 basis and do not attempt to lead with a broad brush stroke.  I have had 1:1 meetings consist of a one hour white boarding session, another consist of going over excel sheets, and another feel like I was a therapist consulting his patient.  These difficult resources begin to express themselves on why they think they are right in their own style which allows me to tailor the messaging and objectives to fit their personality profiles.  It isn’t long until this team of misfit toys lead by their own misfit begin to outwork multiple teams.  When asked why the quick turn around my answer is simple, “I want the talented person who wants to get work done and do the right thing to have a voice instead of feeling like they aren’t being heard which causes them to rebel.”

Keep the Ball Moving Down the Field

I have watched many IT Projects get stuck because of a fear to commit to an action or we need a meeting about the meeting Monday that was scheduled because of the meeting last Wednesday that was in response to the meeting the previous Tuesday that was rescheduled three times.  I have always taken a different approach, never stop moving!  As long as we are moving things are being done, if those things are proven to not be right then point out which direction we need to move in and we will adjust course and move in that direction.  Now, I am not saying that my teams never stop to perform discovery, documentation and proper planning.  What I am saying is my teams never fall victim to paralysis by analysis and if someone cannot bring up a valid impact to the business reason for why something has stalled then let’s put in a change control to move this project forward until someone does raise a concern. Fear is never an acceptable roadblock to getting work done that will save the company money or generate new revenue streams.

There Are No Mistakes but Great Opportunities to Learn

I’ve heard some great one liners in my time like ,”If you aren’t making mistakes then you aren’t trying.”  “No one ever learned from winning all the time.” “You want to learn something?  Try something new.”  I apply to this school of thought and believe opportunities to learn will present themselves if you are attempting to get work done or learn new skills.  When one of these learning opportunities present themselves it also gives us the opportunity to document lessons learned and share that information with the teams making us all wiser for it.  I am not saying to go wild in the environment, make unauthorized changes with no change control, and deploy any new solution you want.  However, if we document the work we want to do, prep to the best of our ability, and we are prepared to remediate the challenges that arise.  Follow that up with documentation of lessons learned; then we are greater for it than had we done nothing.

If You are Going to Lead – Lead with Integrity

When I lead a team the buck stops here.  Any time there is an outcome not achieved, mistake made by my team or blame to be handed out then bring it to me.  At the end of the day it is my team and I failed my team.  Maybe I didn’t make the desired outcomes clear, maybe I didn’t provide proper training, maybe I didn’t unblock a roadblock, or another reason that caused my team to under perform.  Never will I blame a member of my team even if others believe they were at fault.  Never will I try and pass the buck to another team.  I will give my word that I will figure out what caused this error and remediate it.  It could be instituting new training, peer reviews during change process, or altering existing standard operating procedures.  We will identify and correct the process that allowed that error so it is not repeated again.

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