Leadership in IT can be very dynamic. At one time or another it seems anyone may be pressed into a leadership role. The data people (DBAs, data architects, data modelers) often end up considered as unofficial leaders (largely because they are the smarter ones on the team). A leader, whether official or unofficial, has some responsibilities.
Leaders set the tone for their work groups, whether those leaders work at it consciously or not -- Note: if you are a leader, work on how you act, walk through a room, and consider every other way you are visible to or interacting with your team. People are watching. Leadership is often the key to work group morale, for good or for bad.
Leaders are the drum beaters helping lift their team’s spirits when times are tough. IT often has many smart people involved on various tasks, but not everyone can or should lead. Having the right person lead, as well as having others accept that leadership, can prove difficult. Leadership is not about someone who simply says, “Do it my way” (although there is a time and a place for that). Leaders do not put off meetings with their teams over and over again. Yes, everyone is busy, but such actions send a message that the team is not important.
Leaders shouldn’t hide in their offices or off-site; they need to be involved with their teams. I have known leaders who schedule meetings with their team, then keep re-scheduling them for one reason or another. One was deathly afraid of public speaking, the others I can’t explain. Regardless of any perceived reason, such actions alone communicate that the team members are not important, that they are worth avoiding. Rather than having meetings be special events in the universe, it is far better for leaders to have regularly scheduled meetings with their teams at some cadence to pass on news of interest and importance.
Any legitimate manager should know what projects their reportees are working on, what problems and successes they are having, and should also get to know these people on a personal level -- what things they do outside of work, what opinions/hobbies and so forth are held in common. A leader will also need to be a part-time psychologist, a part-time coach, a part-time confessor, a part-time cheerleader, along with many other roles.
To lead, one needs to look beyond code, and tools, and project plans, and instead see people. Good leaders know when to trust their team; just set them up for success and let them go. It is shameful for any leader to establish unrealistic timelines, or unrealistic resourcing, or ignore re-tooling needs, and then blame their team for failing. Likewise, it is equally shameful to tap-dance to those above and redefine goals on the fly to sell insufficient solutions as successes.
Transparency clearly can be painful; but, in IT more so than any other area, a lack of transparency only results in bad things happening. And certainly, without transparency how can an organization ever progress up a maturity scale? Leaders should know and understand their team’s tasks and process, not that those leaders should ever have to do their team’s tasks and processes, but organizationally, the leader is the front line to explain their team, their team’s efforts, successes and failures. The leader will also be the one who needs to make the proper arguments to sell resourcing needs, timelines, and strategies to those above.
A lack of understanding diminishes a leader’s ability to be successful in those tasks. Leadership is often the key to a project getting done on time and in a fashion that meets with everyone’s expectations -- or not. Undoubtedly, leading is challenging, but it is critical, in IT and elsewhere. And yes, having good leadership skills is a rare trait.