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IT leader or IT manager? How to be the best of both

Rich Hein | April 21, 2014
In his book, "Essential Drucker: Management, the Individual and Society," Peter F. Drucker says, "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."

Traits of effective managers:

  • Project management 
  • Vendor management
  • Project responsibility
  • Team/personnel development
  • Delegation/division of labor
  • Problem solving
  • Solid communicator
  • Consistency
  • Honesty
  • Change management

In IT, managers supervise people, projects, relationships and more, but what happens when you get to that next level and suddenly you're expected to be this visionary leader? A lot of times people crash and burn because, as Pamela Rucker, chairperson for the Women's Executive Council, likes to say, "What got you to the table, won't keep you there."

One of the biggest challenges that managers face, particularly in the tech world, is the pace of change. As the business needs and objectives of the IT organization change so must the manager's focus. These are necessary and important skills to have but it's different than leadership.

Skills of Top Leaders

If you want to climb the ladder to the top you'd better develop strong leaderships skills. Leadership is about building a bridge to the future with your vision and empowering those around you to maximize their potential, which in turn should fuel the company's success. And it's not just for those in the c-suite. Anyone can display leadership qualities. When we asked our experts to describe the traits of leadership the following traits emerged:

  • Strategic planning/vision
  • Great networking skills
  • Collaboration skills
  • Being a great listener
  • Empathy
  • Motivational
  • Leadership development
  • Influence/persuasion
  • Profit & loss accountability
  • Authenticity
  • Consistency
  • Honesty
  • Great Communication
  • Change program implementation
  • Emotional intelligence

These traits are certainly not exclusive to leaders; there is plenty of room for overlap between the two disciplines. Many of these traits can be learned. Learning and growing is an important part of life. Striving to be more than we are is what defines us as humans.

Leaders Have Vision and the Ability to Articulate It

"What's really important in motivating people or truly leading people is having an appropriate vision. A lot of it comes back to strategy," says Peter High, author of "World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs."

Leaders often have to be willing to forego the standard path, instead blazing their own trail towards their vision of the business' future. They need a vision and a way of communicating that vision that make people feel included, useful and that they are working towards something bigger.

"A leader is someone who can inspire others. At Bunchball, I am not a manager. No one reports to me. But I am still very much a leader by virtue of my role to inspire people, "says Paharia.

Skills of Top Leaders

Many CIOs today feel that technology is no longer holding them back. It's clinging to the old ways of thinking. In order for organizations to move to the next level their people have to step up as leaders to empower, motivate and influence those around them. The companies that recognize this and do it the best will have the competitive edge.


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