Being an IT leader is different from what is was 10, or even five, years ago. It's no longer about running herd on a central services staff and checking off end-user needs. For today's IT leader, a superior aptitude for technology is not enough.
1. Trusting (that employees will take chances, and may even fail)
It is very important that IT leaders create an environment where employees are encouraged to take chances and are safe to fail. This is often tricky to do. Often times we hear, "Of course, we encourage people to take risks, but we don't get enough of it." Why? It can be due to the consequences of what happens when something doesn't work. If it is called out in a bad way, people will shy away from risk taking. Now, you don't want people taking risks willy-nilly. Rather, it should be calculated risks in consciously chosen areas. The leader needs to help define the boundaries and act in the right way when a "failure" happens. This takes vigilance over time.
2. Strong and approachable communicators
Communication is one of the fundamental leadership capabilities, IT or otherwise. Why? So much is done through communication; it is how initiatives are launched, results reported, and a plethora of things in between. Remember, communication is a two way street and listening is as important as "telling". Great IT leaders listen incredibly well and ask great questions.
Collaboration is one of "those" skills that technical people can look down upon. However, many great ideas and decisions come about because great minds worked together on a problem. That is collaboration. To push on it – and ask why? Simply put, no one has all the answers especially to the most difficult challenges. A great IT leader will encourage collaboration at the right moments.
It is critical for IT leaders to be self-aware. It is vital to know your style, where it works best, and where to adjust your approach. If you don't know your weaknesses, how can you improve them?
5. Problem solvers
Many IT people (maybe most) are problem solvers at heart. Given the technical nature and complexity of each issue, problem solving is key and something an IT leader pushes for.
6. Confident (in others)
IT pros tend to have difficulty relinquishing control when they move into management. As a leader, it is incredibly important to hand over control and work through other people, as it is the only way to scale. If leaders don't make this shift, they will hamper themselves and, more importantly, the entire organization.
7. Strategic thinkers
Seeing the bigger picture and looking forward is critical to succeeding as a leader; without it, one's head is down too much. An IT leader should be strategically focused at least 15% of the time. One must take a hard look at where you actually spend your time and where you should. Make an adjustment to include more strategic activities.
8. Decisive decision makers
Precise decision making is an essential trait of IT leaders. Leaders need to make both quality and timely decisions. They also need to know what and why they are making this decision, how to explain the decision to their staff, or justify it to the C-Suite.
9. Ahead of industry trends and changes
Today the pace of change, need for faster decision making, and consumer demand in IT is intense. IT leadership needs to be ahead of and deliver marketplace demands while also maintaining security and other critical functions. That is not easy to balance, but it is something IT leaders need to tackle head-on.
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.