5 Traits Effective IT Leaders Need

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When you consider outstanding tech leaders such as Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos, five of their traits standout above others. Here’s a look at ways to cultivate these characteristics to further your career.PreviousNext

(Image: Pinkypills/iStockphoto)

(Image: Pinkypills/iStockphoto)


When IT pros were surveyed about which tech leaders they admire most, the list of names included Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and the late Steve Jobs. What are the characteristics that make these and other industry luminaries so revered?

The technology they created? The artful design they infused into function? The plethora of free food and other perks they doled out to employees? Turns out there are five characteristics that more than 8,000 IT workers surveyed in North America by Robert Half Technology pointed to as traits that are important for an IT leader to possess.

But often challenges crop up that prevent tech executives, managers, and team leaders from reaching such regarded heights.

“The most successful leaders are in touch with the needs of the organization and their team, but are also keenly aware of industry trends and factors that impact the tech industry as a whole,” John Reed, senior executive director for Robert Half Technology, told InformationWeek.

“Things that can hold leaders back are ineffective relationships across the organization, being unaware of teams being understaffed, and lacking in innovation or unwillingness to change.”

[See 9 Books Every IT Leader Needs to Read.]

Employees want to work for leaders who can collaborate effectively with other departments to meet business goals, but are also innovative, Reed said. Another desired trait of bosses is the willingness to implement changes quickly in order to create interesting work for tech professionals while helping give their organization a competitive edge, he added.

When they were asked to select their top three most admired tech leaders, survey respondents named:

  • 53% Bill Gates, Microsoft cofounder
  • 45% Steve Jobs, Apple cofounder
  • 31% Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder
  • 30% Larry Page, Alphabet CEO, and Alphabet/Google cofounder along with Sergey Brin
  • 22% Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder
  • 10% Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO
  • 7% Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO
  • 6% Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO

In assessing what all of these tech leaders have in common, Reed made several observations.

“These leaders are at some of the largest or most innovative organizations in the technology landscape. Each has an admirable story of coming into their roles or the way they started their careers, [and they] as well […] have made contributions to the technology landscape in a way that shapes the way we work with and think of technology in our everyday lives,” Reed said.

“Whether they’ve dropped out of college and become successful, developed their company at an early age, broken glass ceilings or broken the mold — each of these leaders possesses qualities that are admirable for anyone working in technology.”

For the survey, Robert Half asked respondents: “Which one of the following characteristics is most important for an IT leader to possess?” They included:

  • Trusts their employees and empowers them to make important decisions
  • Acts with honesty and integrity
  • Establishes a vision, is confident and believes they can make a difference
  • Radiates a positive attitude and inspires their employees
  • Innovates and pushes the envelope creatively

Trust And Empower Employees

“Trusts their employees and empowers them to make important decisions” is the trait that 32% of survey respondents said IT leaders should possess.

“Any good leader will credit their team when recounting their successes,” Reed said. “An empowered team who believes in the organization will do great things, and their leaders are responsible for creating an environment that encourages that.”

Learn To Let Go And Empower Employees

Leaders should realize that they cannot do it alone and give their teams the room to contribute in a way that is meaningful, said Reed.

“A manager who keeps up with their teams and understands their strengths and delegates tasks that play them up will certainly foster the autonomy that employees seek,” observed Reed, adding that having a vision for the organization and plans for how to get there and being involved in the recruitment process will help with the autonomy that employees seek.

Honesty And Integrity

Twenty-six percent of survey respondents said an outstanding IT leader “acts with honesty and integrity.”

“A leader who exhibits honesty and integrity is extremely in tune with their team and operates with honesty and integrity throughout their career,” Reed said

Take The High Road Toward Honesty And Integrity

Team leaders, managers and executives may find they can improve the way they are perceived when it comes to honesty and integrity by having one-on-one conversations with their staff and being as upfront as possible about organizational changes and individual feedback, Reed noted.

“The last thing loyal employees want is to feel betrayed by their own leader, or their organization, when they don’t feel informed — whether it’s regarding their own performance or career-impacting decisions that may occur,” Reed said. “It can cause morale to take a hit.”

Confident Visionary

An admired IT leader “establishes a vision, is confident and believes they can make a difference,” according to 17% of survey respondents.

While all employees are not necessarily looking to manage teams or even fill executive roles, they want to know that their work is contributing to the overall success of the organization, said Reed.

“When their leader expresses a vision, they are able to see how their work impacts the business as a whole,” he explained.

Stride Toward Building Confidence, Vision

“Leaders should establish what they want to see for their department and the organization as a whole and communicate those ideas to their teams,” Reed said. And they need to communicate that vision with confidence.

“Confidence has residual effects, so a leader who believes in themselves also believes in their teams and their capabilities — this then translates to employees who are self-assured in the quality of their work and the impact of their contributions to the organization,” he explained.

Inspiring And Positive

Fifteen percent of survey respondents said a good IT leader “radiates a positive attitude and inspires their employees.”

IT leaders can be extremely busy, being pulled in different directions and having to manage a number of projects, but negative attitudes weigh heavily on teams, Reed warned.

“Leaders should be seen as positive and approachable all the time,” Reed said. “But especially during busy times, it’s even more important to be available to your team.”

Learning How To Inspire

“Being optimistic, especially when things are not going as planned, is something managers have to work on constantly, but has a great impact on the larger teams and the organization when they possess these traits,” said Reed.

He added that IT managers should also create an open door environment, where those team members who are helping during demanding projects can feel they can still reach out to the manager for advice or guidance.

Innovative And Creative

“Innovates and pushes the envelope creatively” is a trait IT leaders should possess, according to 10% of survey respondents.

“We’ve often heard from IT professionals who say that they want to be able to innovate and work on new and exciting technologies in their roles,” Reed said. “Leaders who allow their teams to try new things, and are open to staying updated on new technologies will certainly have the support of their teams.”

Opening Innovative Awareness

“Some of the most effective IT leaders are rarely resistant to change,” Reed said.

He added that staying current on trends and technologies are vital for a technology professional looking to grow, so being under the leadership of someone who is open to these new ideas is essential for many professionals.