March 22, 2016

Leadership in IT: don’t be ‘that guy’

Everyone has in their head a specific image of ‘the IT guy’ (which, of course, can be a guy or a gal).

For a lot of people, that image is pretty well-represented by Jimmy Fallon’s character from SNL a few years back: “Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy.” The character is, essentially, someone whose job it is to be annoyed by the users (s)he’s supposed to support. It’s hilariously accurate, in many cases.

I’ve personally never really been one to paint myself as that type of ‘IT guy’ and I would hope my colleagues wouldn’t either.

Although, if you happen to find yourself relating to any of Nick’s characteristics, there’s a harsh lesson you’ll soon learn: you’re going to have to set aside the know-it-all attitude if you want to be successful in IT — and if you want those reporting to you to be successful, too.

(And, as an aside, why on earth wouldn’t you want your direct reports to be successful? Aside from making the work they’re doing more enjoyable, setting aside the attitude and the ego will enable their success… and, ultimately, that equates to your success.)

This is something that’s been conveyed to me pretty distinctly recently in the articles I’ve been saving to Pocket.

Take a recent article from Fast Company, entitled “Seven Habits of Likable People.” I steadfastly believe that all seven habits are accurate but I think the last two specifically and critically pertain to ‘the IT guy’ — likeable people “share the spotlight” and “aren’t afraid to be vulnerable.”

The point of that first habit is that genuine IT leaders will, if they wish to be a valuable resource for their team and to their organization, acknowledge those that help them succeed. As equally important in my opinion, those same leaders will also do away with the false bravado and nauseating ego — that which is displayed by Fallon in the clip above — and be vulnerable with their team and staff.

Being vulnerable isn’t, to quote Will Ferrell’s character ‘Lord Business’, a bunch of “hippie dippie balogney.” (Hey, if you have a chance to quote the Lego Movie in a post aimed at IT professionals, you just take that chance. Period.)

Take, for instance, an experience from Jim Whitehurst, the current CEO, formerly CIO, for Red Hat.

After deciding to ‘go live’ with a piece of software that ultimately set the company back a year on a specific project, Whitehurst, as he explains in an article for the Harvard Business Review, decided that vulnerability — owning up to the results and explaining the situation — was the only way to effectively continue the dialogue with a team and BOD that was demanding answers.

“When you don’t make the time to explain why you made your decision, people will often assume the worst all on their own: that you’re detached, dumb, or don’t care. But when I made the time to explain the rationale—that we had in fact put a lot of thought into it—people finally understood.”

In her work on the subject of vulnerability, “Daring Greatly,” Brene Brown alludes to a mindset from her own experience that some of us might have when we’re thinking about opening ourselves up and wholeheartedly explaining our rationale and decisions:

“How could I risk being really vulnerable and tell stories about my own messy journey through this research without looking like a total flake? What about my professional armor?”

Bottom line: you won’t look like a total flake and your armor remains intact.

Just ask the CEO of Red Hat.

What about you? Do you know ‘that guy’ at work? Is it you? And, if so, would you think your/his/her bravado and ego make for an important asset to your organization? Or is it mostly detrimental to its success?

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