How to develop your IT leadership potentials


Putting you best foot forward in day-to-day tasks is not enough to push ahead your IT leadership ambitions.

Today’s IT professional needs to shine in “differentiating” activities in order to catch the eyes of co-workers and the company’s powers-that-be in order to cement their IT leader reputation, according to panelist of this season’s final installment of Microsoft’s Ignite Your Career Webcast series. 

The series, presented in collaboration with IT World Canada, features various industry experts who discuss trends and development in the technology industry and provide insights on how IT professionals can further their careers.

“Your day-to-day job consists of tasks that earn you your bacon and the right to stay in your position. It’s what you do above that, that get’s you notice,” says John Oxley, director of community evangelism for Microsoft Canada.

These extra activities, Oxley said may be strictly work-related on extra-curricular but they have to speak of your ability to think strategically, inspire and lead people and follow ideas through their completion.

Oxley suggests looking into projects that could help improve a unit or department’s productivity, cut costs or improve the company bottom line.

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Leaders in many organizations do not necessarily have the title to go with it, according to the panelist. What they do have are the skill sets and attitude that command the respect of their peers, says Cathy Shaughnessy a veteran certified executive coach with Perspectives in Action.

In other words, employees might look to a co-worker as a leader-figure while a person with the title of CIO might not have the ability to actually lead and inspire people under his command.

“Leadership comes with the regular practice and application of certain skills sets along with the ‘swagger’ that says you trust yourself,” according to Shaughnessy.

For example, leaders often ask the questions:

Why are we doing things this way?

What’s the value to our company? What’s the value to our customers?

What can we do to improve delivery of these needs?

Challenges to leadership training

While there is no shortage of IT professionals willing to step up to a leadership position, there are also numerous challenges.

For instance, rather than develop leaders from within, some companies chose to hire IT leaders from outside their organization, says Rob Howard, founder and CTO of Telligent, a Texas-based collaboration software company.

“Many companies intentionally bring in leaders from the outside because they don’t want to invest time and money on inside talent only to lose these individuals when they have reached a certain level,” Howard said.

As a result the development of many organizations is hindered by their failure to develop a deeper bench of leadership quality employees, explains Pedro Cardoso, director of IT and e-business at Becton, Dickson and Co., a Toronto-based medical devices company.

In a recession, Shaughnessy said, it is also typical for employees to hesitate in requesting training support from the company because of budget constraints.

“A robust HR process to put qualified individuals on the leadership track is essential,” Cardoso said.

The leadership program should be a partnership between the workers willingness to pursue his or her leadership potentials and the company’s dedication to support that goal, he added.

Leadership qualities

Self confidence – Leaders often have confidence in their own abilities to read situations and act accordingly to them. Leaders, need to practice “trusting themselves” before others can trust them, says Oxley.

Listening skills – Leaders need the humility and skills to listen to other people’s concerns and ideas. Leaders often ask their motivational questions such as:


  • What outcome do you expect?


  • How do you suggest things should be done?


  • What do you need to accomplish this?


  • How are your actions contributing to our goals?


  • If we don’t this, what do you think will happen?

Learning the rules – Leaders know the rules within their organizations and now how to operate within them.

Goal setting – Leaders have the ability to identify goals that benefit their unit, company and self. They can articulate these goals, sell them and see them through

Personal growth – A good leader never ceases to learn new things and grow. They are always looking to better themselves.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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