Everybody likes to talk about leadership, but few people actually know how to go about being a leader.
To be a leader, by definition you need a team, so that you have followers. Somebody marching off by himself may be brilliant, or may be a nut, but unless he has someone following him, he’s not a leader. So to be a leader, you need a team — and that means a group working together on a common goal, not just a bunch of people in the same room who all report to you.
To begin, there’s the perpetual question of whether leaders are made or born, or both. In fact, a recent survey found that 20 percent of respondents felt that leaders are born, while more than half believed they’re made. The remaining respondents believed leaders are both born and made. At least for the sake of the multi-million dollar “Leadership Industry” of books and classes and so on, let’s hope that being made is at least part of it.
So how do you go from having a team to being a leader? First, you have to know what a leader is. Being a leader is not telling people what to do, and then having them blindly obey it. (In other words, not like Dilbert.)
Instead, leaders either elicit from their team what should be done and clearly convey what role each team member should play, or they persuade team members so skillfully that they end up thinking it’s their idea. As the tribal chief says in the movie The Emerald Forest, “If I tell a man to do what he does not want to do, I am no longer chief.”
How do you do this? That’s where the other two components come in.
Vision is, literally, the big picture, and everything you and your team do should fit into it. While it might sound like lip service, you may find that it ends up helping make a lot of decisions for you.
Wondering if you should upgrade to a version of software that has a lot of great new features, but it would cost some money and it might not be stable? Your decision could be different depending on whether your vision is “Providing our users with cutting-edge technology,” “Ensuring ‘five 9s’ system reliability” or “Using TCO to create the most economical system for our users.” All of these are valid visions but, if followed, they would each result in widely differing IT organizations.
Part of that is being willing to embrace change, and using the vision to determine what that change should be. If you aren’t influencing change, writes Pearl Zhu in her “Future of CIO” blog, you’re not leading — you’re managing.
The important part is ensuring that each staff member feels they’re part of a team, and that they’re all part of something bigger. A properly developed and communicated vision helps your team do that. “A leader’s job is to align the organization around a clear and achievable vision,” writes Mike Myatt in Forbes. “This cannot occur when the blind lead the blind.”
You may recall that a couple of weeks ago, we talked about archetypes, and how the people in your organization will want to fit you into one so they can tell stories about you, so it’s better to decide for yourself what role you want to play and what story you want to tell. You cannot keep them from creating stories –you can only try to shape the stories they tell.
Look at how organizations such as Best Buy and Apple brand their support teams — the “Geek Squad” and the “Genius Bar.” It may sound hokey, but the “Geek Squad” sure has a better ring to it than “I’m Here Because You Broke Something,” “Because I Say So,” or “The Black Hole,” to name a few IT organizations we’ve probably all dealt with at one time or another.
You may not want to go as far as the uniforms that Geek Squad members wear, but you might want to think about how to ensure that people recognize your people are part of your team, whether it’s something they wear or the smartphones they carry. It’s both a matter of having other parts of the organization recognizing them as members of your team, as well as having them recognize each other — again, part of making them all feel like they’re part of something bigger.
Finally, for many people, the hard part about being a leader is that it often means being a cheerleader for your team. But it’s important. “Many CIOs view marketing as an unsavory exercise that they are both uncomfortable with and unskilled to perform,” writes Larry Bonfante in CIO Insight. “Articulating the value of IT and how you are leveraging your company’s investments in the human and financial resources required to drive IT operations and projects is your ‘day job.’ If people don’t understand the value of what you do and how it impacts the bottom line in business terms that resonate with them, your likelihood of getting the support you need to be successful is pretty slim. “
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