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21st Century Leadership – The Crucial Component


By David Zezza, Account Executive, J2 Solutions

If you look back on your career to this point, who stands out as the best leader that you ever worked for?  What made that person so effective?  Was your performance better while working for that person as opposed to someone less effective?  Renowned author and leadership expert John C. Maxwell highlights his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership with Law Number 1, the Law of the Lid: “Leadership Ability Determines a Person’s Level of Effectiveness.”  This notion could not be more critical in the field of Information Technology as the economic landscape evolves at a rapid pace.  Technology leaders need to have a vision that propels their companies forward without being precipitous.  They need to have the intuition to not only identify the right skill sets for their organizations, but they need to develop future leaders to foster future growth of their companies.  Finally, and maybe most importantly, they need to attract and retain the top talent in the industry to both account for and navigate the skills gap that exists in the world of information management.

The Law of the Lid suggests that if you were to rank a person’s level of effectiveness on a scale of 1-10, that effectiveness is either fostered or impeded by his or her leadership ability.  In other words, if a person’s leadership ability is an 8, then her level of effectiveness can be no higher than a 7.  Similarly, if a person’s leadership ability is a 4, his level of effectiveness can be no higher than a 3.  For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Maxwell is correct.  In that light, a person’s leadership ability becomes the single most important skill set in his or her arsenal.  If you apply that concept to Information Technology, it’s not out of line to suggest that for a company to succeed, they must hire and/or develop very strong leadership within their IT function.  As the first quarter of the 21st century reaches its culmination, technology is developing faster than it ever has, and the pace is only accelerating.  Consequently, technology leaders may have the most critical undertaking of all functional leaders in the business world today.  One aspect of leadership that is agreed upon by experts everywhere is that of vision.  With so many choices of software, platforms, cloud services, and APIs available, technology leaders must have a well-defined vision for the future of their organizations.  They must be nimble but thoughtful as they navigate their visions; they must understand the resources available to them, and more importantly, which resources will most effectively and efficiently support their vision.  In addition to technical resources, leaders must find the right mix of employees, contractors, and consultants to execute that vision, which leads to the second reason leadership in the IT function is critical to the success of an organization.

The best leaders have an innate ability to align the skills and strengths of their people with the responsibilities they’re tasked with delegating.  The ramifications of doing so are twofold.  Most obviously, with the pace of change in technology, it’s crucial that they have the right hands on the right tools to make the most use of them.  More astutely, leaders must also ensure that their people are engaged.  Another aspect of the business world that is changing is the focus on company culture.  More and more jobs include flexibility and remote work.  The needs of employees are continuously a consideration for attracting the best talent.  The one aspect of a role that is consistent across all cultures, however, is the actual work that the employee is doing, and if that is not engaging, then any attempt to fortify culture is in vain.  Thus, leaders need to listen to their employees and make sure they are doing work that is interesting and engaging.  Further, they must foster a culture of leadership development.  If Maxwell is to be believed, leaders are tasked with developing the leadership skills of their employees, if for no other reason than to maximize their effectiveness.  Finally, that development will allow the growth of their function to keep up with (or preferably lead) the growth of the organization itself.

Similarly, technology leaders more than ever will face the challenge of attracting and retaining top talent to navigate the growing skills gap in the technology sector.  As the number of unfilled technology jobs climbs and is projected to climb through the next decade, leadership is invaluable.  Candidates take jobs when they recognize good leaders.  Employees remain loyal to good leaders.  Good leaders develop their employees into good leaders.  It is a growth cycle that all organizations must strive for, specifically within their technology departments if they are to avoid the potential negative impact of the technology skills gap.  In its “2018 Shifting Skills Survey,” Gartner highlights that 70% of employees haven’t mastered the skills they need for their jobs today, and 80% said they lack the skills they need both for their current and future roles.  When leaders address this by investing in the growth and development of their employees, they further solidify the desire for employees to remain on board.

John Maxwell is respected around the world as a leadership expert and author.  He’s written over 70 books and sold over 20 million copies of those books.  It would behoove technology leaders everywhere to study his best-known work, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, paying close attention to “The Law of the Lid.”  By doing so, those leaders will develop their own leadership skills, defining their vision, and supporting that vision with the right resources.  They will develop leadership skills in their employees, while listening to them and focusing on engagement.  In doing so, they will create an environment that attracts and retains the top available talent.  The simple recognition of the need for leadership development will define and determine the companies that will succeed despite the growing technology skills gap.  In this light, I’ll ask again:  Who is the best leader that you ever worked for?  What made that person so effective?  I’d love to learn what makes a leader great in your eyes.