Is there a leadership culture in technology?
For me the question is an intriguing question. I’ve worked for over 20 years as a Seattle IT Consultant and I’ve been trying to understand why IT departments, IT services and IT support vendors just don’t quite get it? When it comes to fitting into business culture the IT department seems to be wandering its own path. Management uses leadership culture to polarize the leadership of the organization. I wonder if a lack of leadership culture is the reason why IT just doesn’t get it?
Now at the same time think about the accounting department. The accounting department does get it! It’s hard to separate business leadership from accounting leadership principles. I wonder if this may be because of the long integrated history of accounting with business. If you think about business success it is not possible to imagine the leadership in accounting, out of alignment with management. Yet an integrated IT department seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Modern Information Technology has only been a part of business for the last 20 years. I have often wondered if this history or lack of history might be part of the reason that IT groups just don’t seem to get it.
Traditionally management taps into the organizations leadership culture to maintain alignment. A CEO who can polarize the leadership cultures in each business department will make their goals. For this reason the best it is in the best interest of the CEO to cultivate leadership culture throughout the organization. Engineering groups have always struggled with this leadership culture. Most engineers naturally polarize on technology rather than on business leadership goals. The edge for management has always been the accounting purse strings. If engineering teams projects didn’t align with business objectives the project wasn’t funded. Management used technology as a carrot. Over time these technology centered engineers were integrated into the leadership culture. Engineers learned that as long as technical project supported the goals of the company, they could do whatever they wanted.
So what is a leadership culture?
A culture of leadership is more than just waving a flag and expecting people to follow. A leadership culture polarizes each group to the organization’s vision, strategy and goals. It may be a surprise to learn that when queried about the goals and vision of the organization most technicians in the IT department don’t even know what product or service the company produces. I think this is because technicians are trained in the technology, not in business leadership. Without this understanding of leadership, the IT department has a very difficult time aligning with the business organization.
Does this really affect the business?
Actually it does. The problem becomes much more serious as the organization grows larger. Today’s modern network architects have much more political power within the organization. In the information age, technology means organizational productivity. Increase the organizational productivity and organizational productivity goes up. The key to improving organization productivity in the information age is
A strong leadership culture provides the rules of leadership alignment. The first rule of the culture is that all resources are spent supporting the Vision, Strategy and goals of the organization. This rule may be taught in business schools but must be re-enforced by the leaders within the organization. This re-enforcement is the first benefit of a leadership culture. Without this first rule, the leader could end up taking his/her team anywhere. This is the problem we see in organizations that don’t include the IT department in the leadership culture. IT organizations often align their services on their perception of technology, rather than the organizations goals.
Because the technology is business critical to the organization, the IT groups can disrupt the alignment of the organization. Under the best scenarios we see waste. Under the worst scenarios we see bankruptcy. This disruption can make the leadership within the organization feel like IT hostages. As they watch the business they’ve dedicated their lives to be driven off course.
This becomes the real reason technology fails. Not a technical issue, but rather a poorly aligned leadership culture. Instead of leading with vision, the organization is being lead by the nose following tactical decisions of the IT organization. As the industry changes or the business grows the organization inevitably outgrows the tactics. Without a re-alignment the business growth of the organization is choked off by the limitations of the tactical realities of the technology.