Ten experts share their top IT leadership tips

Industry pros offer a list of actionable management tips that will help you motivate, inspire and connect with your team.

10 experts, 10 tips

The best leaders not only know how but where to look for advice. Often, it is through a mentor or a peer in your department. But what if you’re the head of the department? In most cases, it helps to tap experts outside of your field entirely, those who study good leadership practices and have a wide range of experience in both technical and non-technical fields. 

That’s where these experts come into play. CIO.com asked them for their best advice for the leaders in IT today that can help you stay on top of trends, manage more effectively and even deal with some perplexing problems that can cause sleepless nights.

1. Make a plan to manage your energy level

“In order to live and lead the life you want, managing energy not just time is the key. Here are three tips to increase your overall energy while working in IT. To increase your physical energy, schedule one walking meeting/day to better circulate the oxygen and glucose in your body. To increase your mental energy, focus on your top priorities for one, uninterrupted 90-minute period of time/day, followed by a physical break away from the desk. You will likely accomplish more in those 90 minutes than during the rest of your day. To maintain your energy throughout the day, create periodic, planned, voluntary recovery periods by scheduling meetings that are no longer than 90 minutes and/or stretching every 45 minutes.” 

– Anne Loehr, leadership coach and book author

2. Communicate objectives, wins and strategy in person

“It should be no surprise that managers in IT environments tend to have a habit of using IT. While communicating through technology can be fast, it is not always as effective as communicating in person. Leaders in the IT sector need to keep this in mind – fast does not equal effective. Without exception, the most effective communications are face to face. Clarification of project details, communication about needed improvements, a heart-felt thank you; these objectives and many more are most effectively achieved when face-to-face. This is so because face to face conversation provides immediate feedback through multiple channels all of which aid in genuine – expressions, gestures, vocal tone, back-and-forth exchanges happening in real time, just to name a few. Next time the urge rises to send off an email to initiate a conversation, consider an actual conversation instead. Follow-up with email if a written summary makes sense, but have the initial conversation face to face.” 

– Arron Grow, Ph.D., professor of Applied Leadership at City University of Seattle

3. Drive innovation by combining the younger generation with the old

"Organic growth is today at the very top of the CEO agenda. Interestingly, growth is not going to come any more solely from technological breakthroughs or product innovations. Instead, organic growth will come from customer-driven innovation. And what is driving this co-creation of value with your most important customers? I believe it must be a leadership-driven, institutional change that pairs the influx of new, tech-savvy employees – those millennials who already make up the majority of the workforce – with seasoned strategic account managers adept at collaboratively co-creating new solutions with customers." 

– Bernard Quancard, president and CEO, Strategic Account Management Association

4. Learn how to listen even better

"It's actually a well-kept secret that the most important quality of anyone in a leadership position is how they listen. Most people are very ineffective as listeners, leave people feeling like they were talking to a wall, which leaves them feeling unappreciated, unimportant, not being heard and even resentful. What's unfortunate about this is that being a really good listener is not very difficult. The entire phenomenon of listening consists of only two components: Who do you have your attention on; and what's your internal conversation! Why people are such bad listeners is that they have their attention on themselves and their internal conversation is either ‘get to the point already’ or ‘what am I going to say next.’ To be a great listener, turn off the inner voice and just get your attention on the other person. It’s remarkable how simple this is and how well it works.” 

– Scott Hunter, author of Unshackled Leadership

5. Hire someone to help you with communication skills

“Hire a business communications and presentations skills expert even for just a few sessions. As IT professionals move up the corporate food chain, they will increasingly be expected to communicate their ideas and key information to non-technical stakeholders. As a rule, folks who work in IT are not known for having strong communications skills. Of course, this is a bias and it is unfair and almost always shortsighted to generalize. Nevertheless, decisions as to promotions, the assignment of important new projects, and compensation are often based on impressions. Break bad habits, like weak communications skills, before they break you and derail your career.” 

– Roy Cohen, career counselor and executive coach

6. Learn how to instill vision

“We all know our people can achieve more than they believe they can achieve. So build them up. Show them the vision you have for what they can become and what they can accomplish: a vision you may have helped to instill but one you've worked out with them so it encompasses their hopes and dreams. If they think you have a high opinion of them, it's amazing what they will do to maintain that opinion. And the more they respect you they harder they will work to hang on to your regard.” 

– Barry Maher, author, speaker and consultant

7. See leadership as a partnership

“The problem with IT is the pronoun (and too often the attitude) created by the acronym – IT. The technology (the IT) is not the centerpiece of smart IT functions. It is a ‘WE’-focused solution grounded in a deep understanding of the other side of the valued partnership! Internal customers have problems to solve and results to achieve. Creating a strong partnership with internal customers means understanding needs and aspirations, world-class communication, ease of operation, honesty about capabilities, promises kept, and great recovery when there are hiccups. Just like any valued partnership, it takes continuous nurturance and focus.” 

– Chip R. Bell, senior partner with The Chip Bell Group

8. View IT as a way to promote better human interaction

“As a tech leader it is surprisingly helpful to encourage your teams to limit the scale of their technical solutions. Finding ways to build in improved human interactions rather than replacing them outright, can create more credible and trusted processes than a monolithic solution. Firms that eliminate the depth of human interactions in processes often struggle to regain that proximity and alliances they formed. Leadership is ultimately about getting stuff done and creating valuable relationships. The best work in tech prioritize these both every step of the way.” 

– Dave Wieneke, digital strategy practice director at Connective DX

9. Create a closer link between IT and marketing ROI

“IT is getting more and more pressure to support sales & marketing with reports on ROI, but it's unclear what ROI really means to those very different departments. Leads? Proposals? Actual sales? With existing websites, consider giving away very targeted (and simple) digital assets such as templates, checklists and cheat sheets to help segment website traffic. When follow up emails/calls are made, then, they'll be based on a user downloading a very specific asset, and not just something generic like a catch-all web form. The more quickly we ascertain the visitors' true interests, the more we can generate the quality leads, proposals, and sales that sales & marketing want to measure.” 

– Spencer X. Smith from Spencer X. Smith Consulting

10. Focus on the benefits of training

“Demonstrate the impact training has on business. Training today must be proven to have an impact on the financial bottom line. In an informal survey of 15 Fortune 500 senior executives, 93 percent wanted training to demonstrate a direct effect on business outcomes. There’s even a buzzword for it; we call it ‘bottom-line training.’ Training takes time, energy, resources and money, which is why many organizations often ignore it, because they spend too much energy trying to justify the bottom line. Training can be an intangible, but it’s a tradeoff where the benefits clearly outweigh the costs. Organizations need to invest a few dollars now to reap the bottom line rewards later.” 

– William Hall, the vice president of Learning and Development at Simulation Studios