7 Practices of Influential IT Leaders

TSP • @myTSPnet


According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global CIO survey, which interviewed 1,437 business and technology leaders from 71 countries, influencing others was ranked as one of the most important skills for success. About half (48%) of respondents ranked influence as one of the top five must-have attributes required for leadership over the next three years.

People can only be influenced by those they feel connected to, by a person they feel understands their needs, drives, hopes, concerns and goals. Influence can only be given through consent — if someone doesn’t want you to influence them, your only other options are leading through force, a less effective tactic that requires both command and control. These methods are ultimately unsuccessful in the long term, and unhealthy for company culture and the organization as a whole.

But what exactly is influence, and how do you grow it? Those with influence have sway, the power to create change and help move an organization forward. People with influence are not merely regarded, they're trusted. They respect others and have earned their respect in turn. These are qualities that can’t be purchased — they have to be earned over time.

The smartest people are never finished learning, which counts triple for anyone in the technology business. Those who invest in themselves, continually identifying specific learning goals and consistently working toward them, are the most dynamic leaders. The strongest are always striving to be challenged.

Learning requires humility, another essential trait for a great leader, and they know there is always room for improvement. Committing to ongoing growth requires not only accurate self-perception, but the willingness to seek feedback to learn how one is perceived, which traits and actions are successful, and which areas would benefit from development.

HBO’s mobster character Tony Soprano said, “Those who want respect, give respect.” Respect is a dwindling commodity, thanks to a constant push to pick up the pace. Technology that unites industries and makes it easier than ever to contact people also pushes us apart, and it’s too easy to send a quick message typed with two thumbs that may neglect to say please, thank you, or how’s your kid. Many leaders expect to be respected automatically, but they don’t take the steps to earn that respect.

An influential leader always offers respect regardless of who they are interacting with. They make eye contact, put away the screen and treat others as equals. They do not brush people off because they are in a hurry, rattle off commands or use tones they wouldn’t exercise in an important meeting with a client. Being respectful doesn’t make you a doormat, it makes you worthy of being respected.

Technology skills were once about tech proficiency alone, but because technology is now so pervasive, soft skills have become more valued in the tech world. An IT leader must not only be educated and proficient in their field, they must be able to collaborate across departments, improve overall business functionality and maintain relationships—all of which require great communication skills. Without the ability to communicate, influence is not possible. Influence is the destination, but communication is the road that gets you there. Influential leaders can communicate not only ideas, but feelings, which are more memorable and convincing than data points alone.

Too many C-level leaders travel constantly or shut themselves in their offices all day on conference calls, barely making eye contact with anyone when they enter or exit the building. How can you influence people if you don’t know them, and they don’t know you? Decision makers can hand down mandates, but influencers work with a team, communicating clearly and listening well, which can’t happen if you're never around. Set regular time aside to walk through the office and chat with anyone you come across and make a point of scheduling meetings with everyone from the administrators to the interns.

The objective is to get to know people and open the door for them to share experiences, feelings and ideas. This is the best way to learn your business, discover roadblocks you would otherwise miss and show people you are committed to solving problems and are invested in the organization at every level.

Good leaders don’t do it all, they delegate. Great leaders don’t just delegate, they empower, which conveys the highest trust. Trust is built on respect for someone and confidence that they can and will handle the decisions to contribute to the ultimate goal. You can’t effectively influence someone who knows you don’t believe in them, but if you’ve created relationships where people know you rely on one another, there is trust that creates space for meaningful influence.

Empowering others means you are invested in them, that you root for their success and want to bring out the best in them. Empowering others is how you construct a team that can do anything.

People want to know how to become influencers, but they don’t focus as much on how, when and why they themselves are influenced. If you want to become a leader, first become a better listener. If you don't listen well, you can't understand the experiences and perspectives of those you want to influence. Influence isn’t about making decisions for people, it’s about having strong relationships that exist because of a healthy balance of listening openly and speaking honestly.

Influential leaders don’t criticize, they offer constructive critiques. To avoid destructive negativity, offer correction when it will benefit the person being corrected, when it improves their ability to make more positive decisions going forward and when it contributes to the shared mission. Correction should come from a place of openness and authenticity, with an attitude that shows you seek to uplift, not tear down.

Helpful correction comes with clear information the person can understand and learn from, not just personal opinions. It should always be delivered across as helpful feedback, not just pointing out weaknesses or mistakes. Respectful feedback builds trust and security in the relationship, a key influence driver.