5 Tips on Becoming a Better Tech Leader

Ongoing self-improvement is critical to success in both your personal and professional life. Without a hint of irony, you really should be applying continuous development principles to yourself. By looking at small and achievable improvements on an ongoing basis, making changes, and adapting based on how those alterations impact real-world outcomes, you can become a much more capable and flexible individual. As a tech leader, this couldn’t be more important. 

At its essence, leadership is the process of influencing a group of people to make progress towards achieving goals. Tech leadership is simply about making this happen within a technology space. However, it’s important to note that the line between “business leader” and “tech leader” has never been blurrier. Technology must be aligned with business outcomes, and vice versa. The most successful technology leaders of the future will be those able to bridge this gap and help their organisations and technology teams align around shared outcomes. 

According to a recent study by Deloitte, businesses that have growth-oriented and engaged tech leadership are more able to deliver value through technology and stay ahead of their competition.1 This article is about helping you identify ways to improve and drive these outcomes within your own operation. Let’s get started!

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Suggested reading: For an in-depth guide on how to harness data to improve your leadership capabilities, check out our recent whitepaper — How to Become a More Data Drive Organisation.  

1. Focus on leadership, not just technology

Technology leaders often fall into the trap of believing that they need to be the best technologist in the room. This shouldn’t actually be surprising given the number of tech leaders with a technologist background. But not only is it not possible to remain in the details of every technology or software development trend, given the wider responsibilities you have as a CTO, CIO, etc., it’s just not your job. As a leader, you aren’t there to write code, you’re there to look at the bigger picture and make sure that your teams are focused on the right problems and have the resources they need to get the job done. 

“Leadership”, as elusive as it might sound, is a specialisation. It’s critical that you take it seriously as a discipline and work to hone those skills independently of staying on top of the latest technology. Only then will you be able to get the most out of your teams and allow your organisation to harness technology to its fullest potential. 

What you need to do

Fundamentally, this comes down to letting go of the belief that you need to be absolutely tech-savvy at all times. You don’t need to have all of the answers or understand all of the details. You need trusted advisors who do understand those details. Your job is to put that advice into context and make decisions about what’s important and what’s not. Then, focus on communicating those priorities across your organisation and securing the support and resources that your teams need. 

There is a lot to making this shift in mindset work. We’ll come back to some of the more practical details later in this article — so… keep reading! 

2. Be purposeful about culture

A sense of community can have a tremendous impact on productivity, efficiency and employee engagement. For example, a Forbes study shows that companies that appear on their annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list see higher than average annual returns — and companies with a strong culture see a 4x increase in revenue growth.2 

At the end of the day, culture is about connections and what those connections facilitate. While technology can be binary in nature, culture requires attention to nuance and the purposeful act of outreach and intentional listening. The need for purposeful culture becomes increasingly evident in the context of productivity and remote working, and managing teams that aren’t always (or ever) present in the same room. 

What you need to do

One of the best ways to build culture as a leader is to model it consciously. Step into the expectations that you’ve set out for the team and embody them. While leaving your door open and making it clear that anyone who wants to stop by for a chat can, sometimes it takes stepping out yourself and cultivating those positive bridges. 

Send the message first to check in. Ask about that issue your team member was worried about last week. Leading acts like these will always matter more than knowing the latest developer language. Little things add up and create the personal connections that you need, and that you want to see across your teams. 

3. Develop respect through differences

Stepping back from the technology coalface, as we discussed in our first tip, can leave tech leaders feeling exposed. One of the many reasons for a continued obsession with the details of the latest technology trends is a fear that the only way to earn the respect of technologists is to be the proverbial “best technologist in the room”. There might be some superficial truth to this, but you still need to find a better answer for how to earn the respect of your teams. You’ll never know as much about the details of any given subject as someone who spends their day, every day in that world.     

What you need to do

You might not be able to do the job of your lead developer. But they can’t do your job either — and they probably don’t even want to. You need to win respect by being an effective leader and securing your teams the support and resources they need.

It’s also critical that you develop a sense of comfort in not knowing all of the answers. If you project confidence when asking questions you can actually use those moments as opportunities to allow someone on your team to shine by offering a solution. The doubt you feel is, more often than not, simply in your head.  

Again, this comes back to creating a community-orientated culture, and the fact that your job isn’t about knowing everything — it’s about using the information your teams provide to make the right decisions. Fundamentally, you just need to show your curiosity and demonstrate your ability to create outcomes that matter to others. This is how you win respect as a leader. 

4. Always keep business goals in mind

Organisations with CIOs who are more involved in shaping business strategy have been shown to outperform the average.3 As we’ve already discussed, bridging the gap between business strategy and technology strategy is a core function that technology leaders need to fill. 

It’s your job to make sure that business decisions are being made with an eye on technological solutions, and those technology investments are made in line with business goals. Of course, you can’t do this without the support of wider business leadership and your wider technology team. However, that doesn’t mean success isn’t, ultimately, your responsibility. Demonstrating outcomes using technology will have a large impact on making that alignment possible. 

What you need to do

Fundamentally, making this work comes down to understanding what your business goals are, and then making alignment with those goals a priority within your teams. On both sides, this comes down to communication. 

First, you need to directly seek input from leaders across the business. You need to know what problems they are trying to solve, and what solutions they’ve already tried. Realistically, this needs to be happening on a team/function level, and at the board level. That means having a seat on the board, and making time in your day to discuss issues with individuals at different levels of leadership. 

Then, you need to be in regular communication with your teams about what you’ve learned. Remember, you aren’t going to know all the answers. You might not have heard about the new API being able to solve the challenges faced by your finance team — but Susan, your API specialist, probably has. By keeping a constant dialogue running you can find answers and then focus the right people on developing those solutions. This dialogue is also going to help you create the kind of culture we discussed in tip two. 

5. Excel at debunking tech-jargon

As we keep coming back to, tech leaders need to be the bridge between technology and the business. That means getting good at explaining technology to non-technologist. More than anything, that means deleting jargon from your vocabulary, and perfecting the ability to communicate complicated technical ideas in ways that make sense on a practical level. 

What you need to do

The big thing to understand is that business leaders are most often interested in outcomes. Particularly in board-level conversions, you need to lead with what your new-fangled tech concept is actually going to do — how it impacts both organisational process and the bottom line. 

If you do have to explain how something works, use simple, everyday language, avoid acronyms and lean on visual representations where possible. You should also remember that approximations are good enough. For example, simply stating that APIs are software intermediaries that allow two applications to talk to each other is good enough. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that — there are different kinds, different ways they get integrated, different security considerations — but none of that detail really matters when it comes to board-level approval. 

Leadership is a specialisation, and technologists need to understand that

Technology isn’t the only field in which the skill of leadership can be overlooked. But the often practical and hands-on nature of being a technologist makes this trend even more prominent when it comes to technology leaders. 

If there is a central piece of advice we are offering here, it’s the importance of looking beyond technology to embrace leadership as a skill set itself. This is what focusing on culture is about, it’s what aligning technology and business strategy is about, it’s what clear and jargon-free communication is about. It all comes back to being a leader and putting your teams and outcomes first. Your job is to get the most out of your people, and make sure that your teams are tackling problems that matter to the business. 
At 101 Ways, we help businesses and leaders harness the power of technology and leadership to deliver real-world results. Every organisation and every individual is unique. Get in touch if you want to learn how we can help you become a better tech leader today.

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Footnotes
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  2. Culture Is A Company’s Single Most Powerful Advantage. Here’s Why
  3. Can IT rise to the digital challenge?
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