Why is it important for technology leaders, whether they’re in a tech firm or embedded in industry, to focus on non-technical skills development?
IT’s role within organisations has changed dramatically. IT is ubiquitous now, it’s really not thought of in any practical terms as a separate function. As a result, the CIO's role has changed, and is slowly morphing into one of strategic leadership. This shift presents each business with its own set of challenges. In the Master of Business and Technology program at UTS we have moved from preparing the CIOs of the future to preparing the business leaders of the future, ensuring that those are people who understand the strategic value of technology in the knowledge era, and can build this into sound business decisions.
It’s equally important that industry, government and the community sector are able to produce leaders who can bring about innovation. We’re looking at it from a national point of view; Australia desperately needs innovation – as does every country in the world – but Australia’s innovation record is not good. Lots of ideas are generated here, but they end up in Silicon Valley or somewhere else, benefitting those populations and economies rather than ours. Producing creative technology leaders in Australia will mean we can keep ideas here, commercialise here, and then export them to the world.
What can people at the upper echelons of an organisation be doing to foster innovation – both technologically and strategically – through effective leadership?
Today’s business leaders need to recognise that the next generation, having grown up with the advancements of the past couple of decades, have different, and crucial knowledge about the role of technology. The old guard need to open themselves up to people in their teams who possess knowledge that they don’t have, and allow that knowledge to manifest itself in creative new ways of doing business. Give your teams the freedom to propel and deliver business innovation.
How can up-and-coming technology professionals hone their leadership skills to better support their organisation and deliver on their promise as innovators?
There are four things that anyone, whether in a leadership position now or aspiring to that, can practise to enhance their effectiveness as a leader and manager.
Providing good leadership is an extremely complex challenge. It’s contingent, depending upon so many things. For example, you'd need different tactics to successfully lead a team in China than you would in Australia, or a group of engineers than you would anthropologists. Context is crucial – internal context too. A leader must consider their own mood and thoughts as well as what’s important to those around them. That’s what the most successful leaders do, they read the context and understand what’s appropriate in that particular context.
To navigate this you must understand what really matters in your organisation, and who the people are that can achieve what really matters.
Critical self reflection
To develop this ability to read context, and to continually improve their practice, leaders must engage in regular self reflection. They’ve got to monitor their behaviour and the situations around them. Developing the capacity to stand back and observe what’s going on and assessing what you see is crucial.
Ask yourself: What needs to change? What needs to be reinforced?
Reflecting on your practice will deliver personal benefits that complement professional development, as well as developing your capacity for critical thinking. Deep strategic knowledge and wisdom come from reflecting seriously and purposefully on your own experience and the experience of others, which in turn helps to develop the most important resources of the knowledge era: relationships.
A leader who practises reading context and engages in critical self reflection develops confidence in themselves and their team. We also say to our students that they must relate to others, no matter their position in the organisation’s hierarchy, as equals.
The ongoing process of self reflection can be a life transforming experience. I believe that if you haven’t changed, you haven’t really learnt anything profound – a profound learning experience has to manifest in a changed way of being, and I’m so thrilled when I get everyday examples of Master of Business and Technology students telling me how their lives have changed as a consequence of this. They might not always succeed, but at least if they don’t, they’ve always got the confidence to move on to something else and have another crack.
Finally, leadership that fosters ideas is of little use if those ideas cannot be brought to fruition. The concept of ‘intrapreneurship' provides leaders with a framework to amplify their ability to take creative and innovative ideas from being mere concepts to becoming reality.
Intrapreneurship is developing your advocacy and negotiation skills so that you are able to influence both your peers and those at the top of the organisational hierarchy to implement new ideas, and implement them fully.
See related research from LP21 on the Master of Business and Technology page.