There are many routes into Tech Leadership, with no two career paths looking the same. The role itself, be it CTO, CISO or CIO, ranges in responsibilities but the core principles on what makes an effective technology leader are doctrines most can follow.
In many cases as a tech leader you won’t solely be dealing with technologists, in fact, most of your time might be spent acting as the glue that goes between your technologists and other parts of the business.
We spoke to a range of Executive level Technologists to ask and answer the question: what does it mean to be an effective Tech Leader in 2020?
Martin left his position as CTO at Fujitsu in February this year with the intention to go travelling with locations like Egypt, Chernobyl, Skiing and more on his list.
“But then, the world changed.”
With a career that spans from the burst of the .com bubble all the way to the turn of 2020, Martin has bags of experience in a time that has seen such rapid change. Here are his top tips for being an effective CTO.
Often understated, the soft skills in a CTO’s locker are just as, if not more important than the technical skills. Without those soft skills it becomes very difficult to build rapport across the business, something that is essential if you’re going to be the glue between departments.
“Build a team and build the rapport – don’t try to dictate immediately, become the buffer between the team and management, be the buffer between the aggressive sales floor and the techies. Only once that’s done can you really start to affect change for the better”
For Martin, who worked with clients as well as internal stakeholders, it was important to keep a small pool of agile customers who were as interested in new technology as he was. This made it easier to drive change.
“Keeping a small pool of key, smaller, more agile customers who are also interested in new technologies was key to driving change.”
David Lush is the CTO at Mind Gym, a business consultancy that uses the latest psychology and behavioural science to transform how people think, feel and behave and so improve the performance of companies and the lives of people who work in them.
With a technical career spanning 16 years, David started as a junior java engineer at PowerTec Systems, a small healthcare business that built HR and rostering software for clients including the NHS. From there he spent 9 years at VISA before moving to ONZO as Head of Engineering.
Part of being an effective CTO is driving enthusiasm for technology across the business, from other executive level roles to the users themselves. To truly drive it, you have to love it. For David, the solution to this was simple:
“Double down where you’re most interested.”
This doesn’t have to be directly related to technology, it could be the people using it you’re passionate about. Regardless, the rule still stands that if you’re passionate about something, people will respond to it and you’ll have an easier time affecting change.
Before you can focus on affecting change you need to be personable and build rapport across the business. For David, rule number one in the rapport playbook is being authentic.
“Be honest and genuine, put down the management playbook and use normal social and emotional skills with the team operating around you. It pays back, people will open up and be their honest selves with you.”
In addition to this, David suggests that early in one-to-ones, a CTO should take an action as a manager and make sure it’s followed through on. That way, you’re building trust from day one.
I suppose this comes with the territory. Chief Technology Officer. You’d be forgiven for thinking you needed to be the sharpest mind in the room when it comes to technology but, as David explains, that’s not always the case.
“You still need technical interests and skills but it's about finding people who are much better than you in a specialism and building an excellent team around you – you need to be comfortable with the fact you’re lacking skills in specialist areas while bridging the gap between people so you can spot the opportunities between the different parts of the team.”
Don’t shy away from surrounding yourself with people technically better than you. Focus on being the glue.
Azad Brepotra is the CIO of Japanese Sports Brand Mizuno for EMEA. Azad is responsible for strategic leadership, management and direction of Business Transformation and Digital Services (IT) department. Delivering modern, cost effective, high quality-based technology and services through organisational change management initiatives to meet and exceed business goals and objectives.
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A key consideration across all C-suite executive roles in technology are soft skills. Listening, understanding and translating while still maintaining a keen technical mind – these are all essential parts that make up an effective tech leader.
“It’s got to do primarily with soft skills. Someone who is a great listener, someone who won’t be seen to take a prescriptive approach. But also someone who can take technically complex discussions and translate those to an executive committee and do it in a way that is meaningful.”
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