Leadership for the IT revolution

Which type of leader will come to the fore in this dynamic time?

By Thornton May
May 10, 2017

What skills, though? Leadership is not an immutable set of universal traits. The British have an expression, “Horses for courses,” by which they mean that just as some horses are best on wet tracks, or long tracks or short tracks, so are some people better suited to certain activities than other people. This applies in IT leadership. Horses for courses; environment matters. 

To be successful, IT leaders need to identify and apply a subset of leadership traits relevant to the environment in which they find themselves. This means that when the environment changes, leaders have to change — not who they are, but how they lead. 

The essential thing to realize is that the environment is changing, and radically. I have written many columns characterizing our technological age as revolutionary in nature. Such times can be disorienting, but they’re also ripe with potential. Nathan Rothschild was convinced opportunities were greatest when cannonballs were falling in the harbor, “when there’s blood in the streets, even if the blood is your own.”  

In revolutionary times, two kinds of leaders present themselves, as the middle ground is deserted in favor of the extremes.

The Alpha (α) leader declares the status quo a disaster, claims to have the answer and starts giving orders. This style of leadership is sometimes termed “leading through dominance” — inducing sought-for behaviors via one’s power and formal authority. 

The Delta (δ) leader acknowledges that things are not working as well as they should be and sets about asking fundamental questions designed to collaboratively get at the root cause of the problem. This style of leadership is sometimes termed “leading through prestige,” where behavior change is induced by displaying one’s knowledge and expertise. 

Which leader comes to the fore is a function of the fear, patience and wisdom of the followers. What kind of leader sits at the helm of your organization?

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