Dispelling the Myth of Leadership

Part of the IOUG Leadership Development for IT Series

I have a confession to make … I’ve been obsessed with all things leadership for the past few years.  True, it’s become more concrete to me since taking on a formal leadership role but, to be honest, it’s always been there lurking in the back of my mind.  As a DBA, I was always more interested than many of my colleagues in career planning.  I knew where I wanted to be in my career in six months, 1 year and 5 years.  I surrounded myself with technical gurus and managers that “made things happen”.  Soon, I began to wonder what differentiated them from others.  What makes a great leader versus a good leader?  It’s a perplexing question that many people have spent their entire academic careers studying.  You know it when you see it but it’s difficult to define and quantify.  For those of you who attended the keynote at COLLABORATE 12 by Capt. Mark Kelly, that is probably the best evidence of great leadership that I’ve seen in a very long time.  Here is a person who demonstrates great leadership qualities but is modest and can speak to everyone regardless of their role in an organization.

At this point, you may be asking yourself what the point of my article is.  Here it is … even though we all acknowledge that great leadership skills are important, we as IT professionals do not do a very good job of including the development of these skills into our careers.  We become concerned with developing those technical skills (granted these are important skills to develop) but we ignore the leadership skills thinking that they’re “only for managers”.  This is the myth of leadership … that it’s only for managers.  Regardless of whether you are in a formal leadership role or not, everyone can demonstrate leadership qualities in a variety of ways whether you’re a DBA, developer, architect or business analyst.

Here’s the question, then … how do you do this?  There are a number of ways IT professionals can start building leadership skills into their careers.  Get involved with the IOUG either as a member or a volunteer.  This year, we have a number of leadership development opportunities planned that will make this easy to do.  Second, there are some great bloggers and authors out there that write about leadership topics.  My personal favorites at the moment are Peter Bregman and Michael Bungay Stanier, but there are so many others.  The Harvard Business Review website has a wealth of information on a variety of leadership topics, as well as Inc. magazine.  Finally, learn from others around you especially those you consider to be mentors and admire.

If we continue to perpetuate the myth that leadership only applies in formal leadership roles, we will continue to do ourselves a great disservice.  Ask yourself how the people in leadership roles that you admire got into those roles in the first place.  Exactly!  They demonstrated leadership skills while in individual contributor roles.  Something like this is a work in progress throughout your career and cannot simply be “turned on” when you decide that you want to try for a formal leadership role.  If you compare this to a sports analogy, it is simply impossible to become an Olympic athlete overnight.  In addition, the role of the IT professional today continues to change and evolve.  Providing basic technical skills (what I consider commodity skills) is no longer sufficient.  Our clients look to us to be expert advisors and contributors, as well as to understand more than just a small piece of IT.  To be able to do this, we must possess excellent interpersonal and communication skills, as well as demonstrate leadership capabilities.  While the IOUG is planning to offer some great leadership development events this year (more to come later), this is really the beginning … making more IT professionals aware that leadership is a core IT capability that must be developed and nurtured, much like Oracle database administration, or learning about the latest features of Fusion or MySQL.

Here is my one question I ask of you … what leadership development events do you think the IOUG should offer for IT professionals?  Think about that question and feel free to send me an email.  I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts on this subject!

Until next time, have a great summer!

Maria Anderson
IOUG Director of Volunteer Engagement and Leadership Development