7 traits of highly effective IT leaders

by Sohini Bagchi    Jul 22, 2013

biz leader it

Technology leaders, like any other CXO or senior executive, can have different types of personalities and leadership qualities. He can be a people’s manager, a magnetic executive, or a transformational strategist and even a combination of many such traits. However, successful IT leaders are expected to share some common leadership traits, be it in the area of business acumen, technology skill-sets, decision making, motivation, aggressiveness or innovation. These characteristics can have a significant impact on his people, day to day running of the organization and the overall organizational culture. While talking to some of the IT thought leaders, we found out their key leadership qualities.

1. Strong business acumen

The CIO’s role has tremendously evolved in the last few years. Earlier, he was just involved with the back-end technical operations and his work was mainly to keep the machines running. This concept has dramatically changed as CIOs are increasingly seen as change agents who are expected to align IT with business goals and spur innovation within the organization. “Today it really doesn’t matter whether the CIO is a tech geek, as long as he can articulate business goals and translates them into reality,” says Vishal Anand Gupta, Joint Project Director HIMS and Manager Systems at the Calcutta Medical Research Institute (CMRI). He believes that for day to day operations, it is important to understand A-Z of business to gain the trust and confidence among coworkers and other stakeholders in and outside the company and expands his role beyond the realms of IT.

2. Solid domain knowledge

 Even though the business savvy CIO’s age has arrived, they are still expected to have a strong domain knowledge. An IT leader should not forget that technology practices is his primary domain. And all his innovations will be centred around technology. Srikanth Raman, Chief Information Officer at Narayana Hrudayalaya explains that his role in the organization is to drive business value by strategically leveraging IT. “Although I come from a finance background, in the role of CIO, it is expected that I understand the suitable technology that can help in business growth and know the right deployment of these technologies so as to improve the topline and bottomline growth,” he says.

3. Networking and relation-building

To drive organizational innovation and openness, successful CIOs believe in building and nurturing relationships. Networking through business events such seminars, conferences and open house certainly proves beneficial. And today, with the advent of social networking, their work has become simpler. “Social networking strategies help you shift the conversation from technology to strategic innovation. In addition, because technology inevitably becomes commoditized, focusing on leadership rather than bits and bytes can help CIOs prevent their own professional obsolescence,” the CIO of Intel Corporation, Kim Stevenson mentioned in a recent WSJ blog.

4. Excellent communicator

 An IT leader is expected to be a great communicator. Even a decade ago, it hardly mattered whether the CIO could speak the language of business or relate to anyone outside of IT. But now it has been proved that convincing and credible communication skills have helped CIOs earn a prestigious position in the boardroom and also to the outside world. “A so-so strategy well articulated will produce greater results than an excellent strategy that is not understood by board members,” Ashok Sethi, CIO of Sapient says. As a result, he should learn to craft his message well, he believes and to be a good communicator, he should be a good listener.

5. A strategist with a vision

In forward-looking organizations that expect a lot of business through the use of technology, the IT leader is expected to be more of a strategic partner. He should be a trusted partner to the business understanding. According to R. K. Chhattani, DGM-IT at UCO Bank, IT leaders should play a role of effectively communicating organizational decisions that can inspire the teams to clearly see the picture of a better tomorrow. For this he should discuss specific technologies, timeline for implementation, funding and expected ROI.

6. A customer-centric leader

In the age of the customer, successful companies and their IT leaders employ smart technologies such as mobile, social, analytics and business process management applications to win new customers and better serve existing ones. “By taking up customer-centric IT projects, CIOs can position themselves at par with other CXOs and board members. They should realize that business is all about serving the customers,” says Sujay Suresh Dangi, Chief of Technical Services, Titan Eye Plus, who believes in harnessing social media and mobile CRM for customer engagement and to monitor customer satisfaction for every promotional campaign.

7. Master of innovation

Innovative CIOs have an excellent opportunity to assert leadership by leveraging the power of technology to drive value. V C Gopalratnam, CIO Cisco Globalisation and VP Information Technology elaborates that managing information is just a part of CIO’s role today. The new age CIO should act as the chief innovation officer and spur innovation in order to enable business growth.

There are many more traits of effective and successful IT leaders. Of course like every other senior executive he should possess strong work ethics. Besides he should be decisive, available, knowledgeable and a great learner of new and emerging technology. He should learn to recognize his own strengths and weaknesses and balance it with the right mix of training and an expressive personality.