Managing ourselves can be harder than managing others. In related news, doctors and nurses make terrible patients. I’m married to a nurse, so I know this to be true. It is easy to wave it off, convinced that we are in good shape and don’t need any help.
Improving as a leader is a lifelong journey. As a leader, we are never as good as we think we are. But take heart, because we probably aren’t as bad as we think we are.
There are four things that are necessary to be a good IT leader. There are other important leadership skills, of course, but these are ones I believe are specifically helpful for IT leaders. Here is a brief explanation of the four.
Focus & Finish for IT Leaders
The concept of Focus & Finish (covered in this post) is a general concept that which also applies to your workday. Multi-tasking is a myth and you are no different. Keeping a small number of active tasks is hard for any leader, but is especially hard in IT. Control interruptions, use the different parts of the day intentionally, and work on the highest priority tasks.
When managing a team, it is important to be clear about what tasks you are doing and what tasks your team is doing. If tasks are Monkeys sitting on our shoulders, we need to make sure that they don’t jump from our team’s shoulders to ours.
Constant Decision Making
IT leaders have the widest variety of decision types. There are all the normal people and company issues other managers face. Then we add IT technology into the mix, with its rapid, always changing environment. And finally, we add consumer technology that is changing how the employees and customers interact with technology. This is a tough environment to navigate. The decisions we make daily vary wildly in size and topic.
There is a partial list of techniques that can be useful depending on the specific decision.
- Sometimes wrong, never indecisive. Some decisions are small enough that the lack of a decision is more harmful than an incorrect one. Don’t get hung up on these.
- Make a partial decision. Larger decisions often have multiple aspects. Deciding on some aspects early may allow you to proceed with some tasks while you gather the other information for the critical decisions.
- Delay a decision. We never have all the information we want to make a perfect decision. But we often need more information than we have in order to feel comfortable deciding. If you can wait to decide without impact other activities, you can use the time to gather what you need.
As IT Leaders, we must connect with the organization. Simply walking around and interacting with others is a key part of this. Take the long way to and from meetings. Make a point of getting out on the production floor regularly. Since you are monitoring the Help Desk tickets, stop by and chat with someone who submitted a ticket.
Over time, we see the same people and can start conversations. Asking questions from a place of genuine curiosity usually results in people sharing about their job, what’s going well and not so well, and their ideas and opinions.
When the inevitable IT questions pop up, we can turn it into more of a conversation about how they use the systems. What works well, what problems they have and how often they pop up. If they see us as a friendly face, employees may ask questions about the business. This gives us a sense of what the employees are thinking and feeling. We end up with a better sense of the organization.