Throughout my career I’ve had plenty of bosses. Bosses that reminded me that my job was as secure as their wavering opinion of my value, bosses that invested more in maintaining their ego than their team, and bosses that were great mentors for what not to do when charged with leadership. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, I have worked with far fewer leaders.
In many information technology departments, you will find “bosses” and their affinity for authoritarian leadership. Rigid, task-oriented managers who see their staff only as a means to close work orders and complete projects. Problems come in and they fix them, period. Failure to hit what may be arbitrary goals can cost you your job. Do the work, do not question the directives, and remember “who’s the boss.” Aspiration for improvement or advancement is allowed if it does not threaten their own place at the top. In the contemporary workplace, and specifically within information technology departments, we as leaders should take advantage of the vast research in organizational leadership and create an environment where value and respect of the individual are the foundation of a high-performing team.
I hate to admit it, but early in my career when I was first given a small team of technicians to manage on a project, I wanted them to operate as an extension of myself. I knew what they should be doing and how they should do it. I assumed they had the same skills as me, so my expectations were very high and my patience very low. I was an arrogant boss, and the team effort soon fell apart into a painful struggle to complete the project on time. That experience made me realize that I had become the leader I had worked so hard to escape in other jobs. To keep from repeating those same mistakes, I needed to change my leadership style. That change came in the form of Transformational Leadership.
Transformational leaders are orchestrators of a team, not the manager of a department. These leaders value the skills of their employees, know that a person is more than their current job, and accept the task of extracting those hidden qualities. Sometimes developing an employee’s potential entails changing their self-image. When your team members have merged their identity with the various facets of their job, as is often the case for technology workers, this shift is usually a gradual process that takes attention and cultivation.
Great leaders are able to help employees see their potential within themselves – either through explicit professional development strategies or embedded within the department’s culture of continuous improvement. This is not an afternoon pep talk or department-wide email declaring “everyone is going to do better because they should want to.” Changing organizational culture cannot happen (successfully) via mandate.
The transformational leader sets realistic expectations, communicates their vision for a successful department, and allows the team to do the work they were hired to do. This hands-off approach should not be confused with being a laissez-faire leader, the traditional opposite of authoritarian. Transformational leaders are engaged with their staff and spend time keeping them on track with meaningful direct and indirect support – not apathy or micromanagement.
We all want to lead high-performing information technology departments. If you find yourself searching for a way to improve your department’s performance through a change in its culture, be prepared for the transformations. Over the next two posts, we will look at what has to change with you to go from being the boss to becoming a better leader. Following this internal shift, we will then take the next step and introduce the transformational concepts to your team. The integration of a transformational culture will be a gradual process that will test your patience and willingness to mentor and be mentored. However, at the end of this journey, you will find a renewed respect for your team, and they will reciprocate that respect with performance far beyond what they would have given to their “boss.