Over the years, I’ve learned that the most important IT leadership skill is to have an in-depth understanding of the business and its landscape. The business landscape is dynamically changing in today’s digital world, with new technology innovations, global incidents and geopolitical events.
It’s key as an IT decision maker to have an in-depth understanding of the business your team serves: from competition landscape, to customer behavior shifting, to global supply chain evolution, to industry revolutionary business model shifts. This understanding is the foundation for IT leadership.
The importance of this skill is not controversial, but it is also not uncommon for IT leaders to struggle in conquering, applying and adopting this skill into their leadership style/practices, especially in a technology-dominated IT leadership role.
What makes an IT manager a true leader
Peter Drucker once said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
Leadership, by definition, is about making the right choices among chaos and unstructured information. However, the more chaos that exists, the harder it will be for businesses to make right decisions.
Today, management or IT leadership roles are in the fastest and most dynamic iteration period they’ve ever experienced, and this is mostly contributed to (and led by) the IT industry. Making the right decision as an IT leader relies on an individual’s in-depth understanding of the business and its landscape, rather than just on traditional experience, hands-on skill, or even academic knowledge.
Due to the growing digital marketplace, it’s becoming harder than ever for IT leaders to optimize updated product roadmaps, operation process, resource allocation, budget controlling, service tradeoff, new technology adoption, and legacy system retirement plans. If IT leaders have not built up their own in-depth business understanding, they will have a difficult time navigating this landscape.
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Acquiring this skill means looking beyond the world of IT
The best way to acquire this skill is to have an adjusted way of thinking. You need to intentionally add a business lens to your technology-dominated way of thinking. Wearing a business cap at all times as an IT leader opens the individual to understand the bigger picture by connecting the dots between technology and business, and how technology serves the business. This is especially important as the CTO increasingly moves into a role responsible for tackling larger business decisions, working side-by-side with the CEO.
No IT decision will be given credence until it is explainable in the business context. Meaning, IT leadership isn’t doing its job until its IT recommendations are efficient and effective at serving the business under its dynamic landscape.
Shifting yourself from a technology-centric to a customer-centric mindset is key. IT leaders that move from a legacy KPI focus to business ROI focus, as well as from the pursuit of perfection to being satisfied with a 95% completed vision, will accomplish more at the end of the quarter or year with their team. We must move from a professionally-skilled CIO mindset to being CXO/CRO hearted CIOs.
Applying these new philosophies into all leadership scenarios — practicing improvement cycles constantly is key.
Remember HEEA: Hypothesise, experiment, evaluate and adjust
The world is dynamically changing everyday. It’s important to understand and embrace these constant changes both at a surface and at an in-depth level. Knowing which changes have a macro versus micro impact is key.
IT leaders must have the ability to communicate the macro changes to the C-suite, and both the micro and macro changes to your team for them to have the full picture to work towards a more informed IT decision at every turn.
One must leverage this IT leadership skill, an in-depth understanding of the business and its landscape, to influence these shifts as they come, keeping their crew agile and able to roll with changing, sometimes choppy, waters to keep on track with set goals.