True story: Generative AI recently hallucinated, claiming that I wrote an e-book entitled, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Technology Leaders.” That was totally made up. But I liked the idea, so I decided to defictionalize it.
Or here’s a creepier explanation: GenAI knew the future… Never mind. Let’s not go there.
Back in the day, when I started my career, Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” was hot. I remember taking a corporate classroom course on the topic. It was great and I learned a lot. The article I’m writing here, won’t be nearly as important, but I’m going to put it out there anyway. Our new AI overlords want me to.
These are habits, not personality traits. Any aspiring tech leader can do these. Do them regularly, and you’ll be unstoppable. Ask 100 different technology leaders, and you’ll get 100 different lists. These are mine. This is what I value and what I think works well.
Habit 1: Think
Tech leaders naturally spring into action. We also freely speak our minds. Lastly, we have plenty of demands on our time, so we are often running around. This comes naturally to most of us. Here’s the habit that the best tech leaders embrace: Stop and think. The best tech leaders make time to think. They think before they speak. They are generally considered to be deep thinkers. If they share an opinion, you can count on the fact that it’s well thought-out.
Thinking is a habit. I make time on my schedule for “think time.” I also take time to work through some of my more complex ideas and write them out. When I’m driving to or from the office, I’m rarely listening to the radio, but I’m often thinking about a problem, strategy, or position. Yes, I can think on my feet too, but I’m even more effective when I make thinking a habit. Read more here.
Habit 2: Take the heat
Most tech leaders have operational responsibility. When the technology in their area breaks, bad things happen. The business is impacted, customers complain, and tensions rise.
What happens next makes or breaks a tech leader. The best tech leaders let their teams focus on the problem and they stand in front of the business and customer to take the heat.
Again, this is a habit. Naturally, we’d like to focus on the problem or focus on our team. It takes discipline to engage with the impacted, take an earful, respond with empathy, and move forward. Read more here.
Habit 3: Serve
Tech leaders direct work and make sure stuff gets done. That’s the core job. Naturally, many gravitate toward command and control, using their authority as a boss to manage.
The best tech leaders develop a habit of serving as their primary means of leading. It starts with a belief that people are naturally motivated and skilled. They don’t need to be told what to do, but they do need to feel safe, empowered, supported, and strategically aligned. Leaders provide that, and their teams make the magic happen. New to servant leadership? I wrote a primer here.
Habit 4: Inspire
Tech people have a reputation for being analytical and reasonable. There’s not a lot of emotion going on. Facts and data should be all they need, right? Wrong.
The best tech leaders build a habit of inspiring their teams. People don’t just need work instructions. They need a worthy cause to fight for. They need a strategy that is compelling. They need to be led by values that resonate. Yes, even the computer nerds. Especially the computer nerds.
Don’t feel particularly inspirational? You can develop this habit. Don’t copy someone else’s style but build your own. Need some coaching? Ask the inspirational people in your life to hold you accountable. Read more here.
Habit 5: Recruit
Leaders are nothing without their teams. Sorry leaders, it’s just true. Have a bad team? You are awful. Have a great team? You are amazing.
The best tech leaders are talent magnets. This is the leader’s job. HR and Talent Acquisition aren’t going to do this for you. You have to make yourself the type of leader that top talent wants to work for. Don’t be invisible. You have to put out the vibe in your markets.
Habit 6: Learn
Most technology leaders are former technologists. We used to have the hot skills, but then we got into management. The further we get from hands-on-keyboard work, the more out-of-touch we become. That’s an issue.
Related to Habit 5, low-tech leaders have a hard time leading high-tech engineers. More importantly, as leaders, we need to stay up on the leading-edge technologies, so we can speak intelligently about technology trends in executive leadership circles.
When I decided to pursue a career in IT, I knew I was signing up for a lifelong learning assignment. Going into management didn’t let me off the hook. I make time to learn leadership skills and I make time to learn the latest technologies.
Habit 7: Influence
Decent technology leaders lead their teams and serve their customers. The best technology leaders influence their entire company and change their industry.
Whoa, Zach. Stop right there. I barely have time to do my job. How can I do that? In my experience, time isn’t the issue. It’s more a matter of fear and lack of confidence.
You are an expert. Get on stage and share your expertise.
Terrible at public speaking? It’s a skill you can learn and practice, just like any other skill. Write a blog. Get active on LinkedIn. Be a guest on a podcast. Go to networking events. Mentor someone. These are just a few ideas.
Don’t let fear and lack of confidence hold you back. Face your fears, muster confidence, and just do it. Not because you are cocky, but because you have a role to play in making the world a better place.
The 7 Habits
These are the 7 habits that make tech leaders exceptional. How are you doing? Which one needs work? All of them? Pick one and start working on it today. For a little extra accountability, let me know what you’ll be working on in the comments section. I’m here to cheer you on.