Probably the easiest quality to pinpoint in a candidate for an IT executive position is technical savvy. In fact, many IT executives today are promoted from within the ranks due to their particular knowledge of technology. They might be technical whizzes or someone who the organization thinks should share their expertise with others.

According to David Rock of, a consulting service that specializes in management development, a problem can result from this type of corporate promoting because many managers have poor people skills. “They know how to manage technical work but not how to manage people.” In fact, according to Rock, smart knowledge workers of today sometimes view managers in some sense as roadblocks or as necessary evils, not as resources.

With today’s new emphasis on aligning IT with business goals, IT executives must know more than network-speak and new technology. They must be able to lead and inspire their IT staff to fulfill those business goals in a positive and productive manner. World-class organizations are led by people who know that “measurables,” such as profit, productivity, and customer satisfaction, are the outcome of staff performance, not the cause of it. And the way to get your staff to meet such goals might just be through better leadership and coaching.

Lead, don’t boss
Today’s IT leaders need to know how to guide staff without micromanaging and without using fear and intimidation as incentives. Unhappy and poorly served staffs pass unpleasant and unfair treatment along to their customers. And in today’s workplace, a management style of pushing people around often pushes the highest performers right out of the door.

“Some people in leadership roles are excellent leaders. But too many are bosses, ‘snoopervisors,’ technocrats, bureaucrats, managers, commanders, chiefs, and the like,” said Jim Clemmer, best-selling author and president of The Clemmer Group, a company that provides strategic consulting services and executive management coaching. “Good leaders work to put people in the best place for them to thrive and succeed. They mix and match team members to build a well-rounded team that is…best suited to the current operating conditions of the organization or the team.”

According to Dr. Debra Condren, a business psychiatrist and founder and president of Business Psychology Solutions, effective IT managers and leaders are the following:

  • Inspirational
  • Technologically savvy, but not prone to getting lost in details
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Dedicated to service
  • Inclusive rather than independent or autocratic

Leaders today should lean on the ability to inspire and empower their staffs because they don’t have the time or capacity to control everything. Good IT leaders focus on leadership practices, cultural factors, and the learning and development practices that drive performance in their staff instead of getting bogged down in technical instruction.

Coaching vs. managing
Tom Landry, longtime coach of the Dallas Cowboys once said, “Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.” He, of course, was talking about leading 11 men to Super Bowl victories. But is it so far-fetched to apply the same principle to managing your IT staff?

Rock doesn’t think so. A huge proponent of using coaching to drive performance in staff members, Rock explains the difference between coaching and managing this way: “The coach, unlike the manager, is by nature not as focused on technical information or how things ‘should be done.’ Coaches tend to stay out of the detail and focus on higher order tasks such as vision, strategy, and planning.” He believes the coach’s role is to help the individual develop the habits he or she needs to be more successful at communicating, planning, organizing, and contributing to the goals of the business.

Introducing coaching competencies into an organization is a very powerful strategy for modifying or creating a culture that is more adaptable to change and growth, such as IT. According to Rock, the advantages of using a coaching style are obvious when you understand how a coach operates. The successful coach is:

  • Committed to helping a person come up with his or her own answers, which empowers that individual significantly.
  • Rigorously solutions-focused, which brings about positive change more easily.
  • There to deliver positive feedback and encouragement—not to tell people what they’re doing wrong.
  • There to stretch and challenge people.

How do you turn a manager into a coach?
For most managers, learning to coach is like learning to speak a different language, says Rock. “Coaches use English, but the way they ask questions, the way they listen, and the way they phrase things all occur differently when coaching than in everyday conversations. For example, the concept of helping people come up with their own answers rather than giving advice [is] in itself a very different way of speaking.”

Like learning a new language, learning to coach is not that difficult. But it does take a lot of time and focus. Some roadblocks that could get in the way of an IT manager learning coaching are:

  • They have ingrained habits that get in the way of new approaches.
  • They might resist new styles for fear of losing their edge.
  • They might not be comfortable not being seen as the expert in all technical situations.

Coaching resources
Like The Clemmer Group, many consulting services will work with the leaders in your shop to cultivate coaching styles. Here are a few others:

According to Clemmer, “Managers push, leaders pull. Managers try to light a fire under people, leaders stoke the fire within. Managers command, leaders inspire. Managers use position power, leaders use persuasion power. Managers control, leaders foster commitment.”

If you think that you or your management staff fall short of the qualities it takes to be a leader, you may want to look into coaching as a better way of leading your IT staff.