The 8 essential habits of highly effective IT leaders

Leadership should be your top priority in steering your tech organization forward. Here's how to ensure success

Leading an IT organization is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Responsibilities are complex, most executives consider it a necessary evil, and everyone in it knows more than you do.

Tough as the job is, many IT leaders make it worse by treating leadership as an afterthought. Big mistake -- if leadership isn't your only job, it is at least a major component of what you do. You have to give it priority.

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Luckily for you, I've broken the job down into its eight essential tasks. They won't make the job easy, but they will make leading your IT organization more manageable, and the results of your leadership more appealing to all who work for and with you.

Effective IT rests on leadership

Before we turn to leadership, let's discuss the four details that effective IT organizations get right:

1. Business integration: They integrate their work into the enterprise as a whole, properly defining and managing relationships while instituting effective governance mechanisms.

2. Process maturity: Whether the subject is project management, application development, information resource management, operations, or supporting personal technologies, they know how to do what needs to get done, finding the proper balance between the undesirable extremes of utter chaos and stifling bureaucracy.

3. Technical architecture: Rather than piling individual solutions together into a loose collection of stuff connected through a bunch of undocumented ad hoc interfaces, effective IT organizations solve each technical problem once and engineer integration in a consistent way.

4. Human performance: They understand that the most important determinant of organizational effectiveness is the people who make up the organization, their ability to collaborate, and the leadership they receive.

This isn't a complicated framework. Making it real isn't hard the way quantum electrodynamics is hard. It's hard the way digging a ditch is hard, because effective IT leaders aren't merely competent at all four of these factors. They delegate the complexity, focusing their own attention on building an organization that's highly competent at all four of these factors.

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