3 Surprising Insights About Strategic IT Leadership
“What is your biggest barrier to becoming more strategic?”
“How is strategy currently handled in your IT org?”
For the last few weeks, we asked our community of IT leaders these questions.
IT leaders are constantly being told they must “become more strategic”.
Often, this advice is given without much elaboration.
It’s given as if “becoming more strategic” was such a simple thing to do.
And it’s given as if the benefits were so obvious.
After seeing this advice repeated again and again, we realized there was one set of voices missing from the conversation about strategic IT leadership…
The voice of the IT leaders themselves.
We wanted to give IT leaders a chance to explain what really motivated them to want to become more strategic—beyond the fact it’s something they’re being told they must do.
And we wanted to better understand the real challenges they faced when they tried to “step up” and contribute a different type of value to the business.
To uncover this, we put together a small survey, and shared it with our community of IT leaders.
What we got back: Three surprising insights about strategic IT leadership.
IT Strategy is Not About the Tech. It’s About the People
When you hear the big IT publications talk about strategy, it’s always focused on the tech.
They always feature headlines like:
—Looking for an A.I. Strategy?
—How to Develop an Internet of Things Strategy
—How to Get Creative with Your Digital Transformation Strategy
But NONE of our respondents wanted to become more strategic to play with all the big, cool technologies coming out.
Instead, these IT leaders wanted to use strategy to get closer to their people.
Half wanted to use strategy to engage and excite their teams.
Half wanted acceptance from their business’ senior leaders. Some of these respondents wanted to use strategy to “stay in tune with colleagues on the business side.” Others wanted to use strategy to get invited to the inner circles of senior business leadership.
But in each and every single response, IT leaders wanted to “step up” and become a more strategic leader so they could improve their relationships within their organization.
For IT leaders, “becoming more strategic” is a people issue. Not a tech issue.
And yet, looking deeper into the data, we came to see, for most IT leaders…
Your Stakeholders are Not the Problem (Yet)
Since IT leaders care about strategy primarily for people-driven reasons, you’d expect IT leaders’ biggest barrier to becoming more strategic would be stakeholder relationship problems.
We expected that.
We thought when we asked IT leaders, “What is your biggest challenge to becoming a more strategic IT leader?” most would respond, “My business stakeholders won’t listen to me.”
But the opposite happened.
Only 12.5% of our respondents said they can’t become a more strategic IT leader because their business stakeholders won’t listen to them.
Instead, 87.5% of respondents said they can’t become more strategic because they:
- Spend all their time completing one-off projects and putting out fires, or…
- They lack a central compelling vision and strategy to bring to their stakeholders or their teams.
Most IT leaders haven’t even reached the point where their stakeholders can ignore their strategic perspective.
Instead, they are still struggling with the first barrier to strategic IT leadership: Most IT leaders remain caught in a purely functional view of how they can contribute to their business. They feel challenged to see what they can do beyond solving the crisis of the day. They lack a greater vision of the value their technological expertise can offer their business.
Developing a Strategic Voice Remains the Biggest Challenge for Most IT Leaders
When we dug deeper into our community’s feelings about why they couldn’t act more strategically, one common statement emerged.
Our community of IT leaders repeated this one statement in many different ways, including…
- “I lack a unique vision of how IT can add value to my company.”
- “I’m not close enough to the business to truly understand their concerns.”
- “IT leaders are never trained to develop a compelling strategic vision.”
- “I don’t know how to transform my knowledge into tangible strategic solutions.”
Throughout our survey, when we asked these IT leaders what was holding them back from becoming more strategic, at heart they kept saying just one thing:
- “I want to add strategic value to my business. But I don’t know how.”
It takes guts to admit this.
And it can be painful to dig into why this might be.
But it’s also necessary.
IT leaders are intelligent, thoughtful people with a deep understanding of technology.
And as technology becomes the key value driver for each function, IT leaders can deliver strategic value like never before. In fact, right now IT leaders are the only people who can create a truly compelling, cross-functional vision and strategy for their business’ technology-driven future.
So why are IT leaders struggling to develop and deliver this strategic voice?
There seems to be something missing.
This something prevents many IT leaders from, as one respondent put it, “connecting the dots” between IT’s technological expertise and their business’ burning needs.
We’ve spent decades helping IT leaders construct visions and strategies that energize their people, and get them a seat at the table. We have some thoughts about what this missing something might be.
But for today, we want to hear from you.
What do you feel this missing something is?
Why do IT leaders struggle to “connect the dots” to produce a compelling strategic vision for themselves, their people, and their business?
Marc Schiller is the founder and Managing Partner of Rain Partners. Schiller is a leading voice and thinker on IT leadership and management. His book, The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders, broke new ground regarding the most significant management challenges facing IT leaders today—and how to address them.
Contact Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call:1.914.290.4575