Career-minded professionals in any sector typically believe that hard work and commitment will someday help elevate them to a leadership position. Yet, we see time and time again evidence to the contrary.
In that regard, the IT sector is no different than manufacturing, construction, or professional sports. When asked, pro-sports coaches tell the media that a player works hard and does all the right things. Yet, fans see many professional athletes ride the bench while others post hall of fame careers.
In many ways, that scenario mirrors the IT industry where highly skilled managers never quite achieve leadership status. Like second-string athletes, perplexed managers continue to search for answers to the problem of how to break into the starting lineup. The motivation of great athletes such as Michael Jordon and the self-reflection of IT thought leader Ross Siroti of Rekall Technologies lends some perspective about the traits needed to elevate your game.
1: Harness Your Motivation To Succeed
Hard-working professionals and athletes tend to focus on productivity and outcomes. In other words, organizing a team to complete tasks effectively and efficiently would signal supervisors that managers are ready for advancement. The manager's motivation in these instances focuses on productivity.
The problem with using outcomes as motivation is they are not necessarily the core personal drivers. Ask yourself, does the manager's or athlete's motivation evaporate when the job or game is over? Consider the vastly different process NBA Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan.
"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed," Jordan reportedly said. "I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
It may seem counterintuitive, but the most significant professional basketball player of all time motivated himself by embracing the reality of failure. He then pushed himself to overcome. In the IT sector, Siroti speaks to a type of internal motivation, not unlike Jordan's.
"As an IT leader, the survival instinct one takes on shows your staff that you're willing to everything and anything to get the job done the way it should be done. Follow up as many times as needed, check-in 3 times a day if required," Siroti reportedly said. "IT leaders understand that every project is an opportunity to lower the relationship with management or, in my case, the client. It is more than just doing the work."
It appears that established leaders in the IT and sports world are brave enough to admit the ever-resent specter of failure. Then they carry that forward and do something about it. Consider how similar Jordan and Siroti express that motivational trait when broken down into a single sentence.
"Failure makes me work even harder," Jordan reportedly said.
"You need anxiety if you're going to be a successful IT person, leader or not," Siroti reportedly said.
2: Leaders See The Entire Board & Individual Pieces
Motivational speakers sometimes talk about "thought leadership" in a kind of murky fashion. But perhaps the core principle involves looking at critical next steps and well beyond them in the same moment. Consider what Jordan and Siroti say about the marriage between global thinking and the minutia.
"I would tell players to relax and never think about what's at stake. Just think about the basketball game. If you start to think about who is going to win the championship, you've lost your focus," Jordan reportedly said. "Every time I feel tired while I am exercising and training, I close my eyes to see that picture, to see that list with my name. This usually motivates me to work again."
When speaking to the idea of seeing the big picture as well as essential next steps, Siroti employs similar language. He immerses Jordan-esque thought leadership in an IT landscape.
"IT managers play checkers while IT leaders play chess. IT managers mobilize the tech troops to get the job done on time. IT leaders consider every move and each ramification. IT is not just IT. It's perception. It's politics. Every move an IT person makes can be misconstrued, 'why did she get a new laptop,' 'why am I targeted in this phishing email,'" Siroti reportedly said. "IT leaders make decisions based on the end-user perception and management perception. What consequences will this change cause? Who will this affect the most? How will I buffer this change for the more needy users so it is a smooth transition? IT leaders are calculated and get the job done while considering management the whole time."
3: Leadership Skills Are Both Inherent & Learned
Perhaps the single greatest reason some players and managers do not rise to the leadership level stems from personal growth. The fact that they worked hard and developed enough skills to make a sports team or achieve a supervisory position points to success and inherent potential. But the skillsets required for top-tier leadership are many.
"We talk about the IT leadership trait often between my helpdesk manager and myself. There is a certain amount of work ethic, motivation, positive attitude, confidence, technical ability, social ability, and most of all, anxiety to build the perfect IT leader," Siroti reportedly said. "Some are born with all these traits. Others, like myself, were born with most but had to strengthen others. For me, years of working in the IT field gave me the confidence I needed technically and socially to get the job done."
Jordan knew he possessed great talent in terms of shooting and ball-handling, but he had to learn a leadership trait to succeed at the highest level. He put this facet succinctly, saying, "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships."
These two thought leaders understand that we all start with certain advantages. By honing natural skills and developing the deficiencies in our overall game, managers can promote themselves into IT leaders.
"IT leaders must be calculated in the ways in which they deal with their clients, users, and staff," Siroti reportedly said. "It's strategy, it's challenging, it's endless, it's even fun, and it's also a way of life.