Trust Yourself to Be a Leader

Your behavior as a leader can either stymie change or inspire it. To guide your team successfully, you have to follow your intuition and practice fundamental leadership skills.

This year I had the privilege of judging a number of CIO 100 applications. What I enjoyed most about the process was seeing the direct connections among technology, innovation and business value in the submitted projects. Perhaps most remarkable, however, is the importance of effective leadership to these highly successful and innovative technology initiatives.

In contrast, in many IT circles you find cult-like followings for the classic movie Office Space and comic strips like Dilbert, which feed on the fact that ineffective leadership, which stymies innovation, is so common. From Dilbert's pointy-haired boss to the evil Human Resources Director Catbert, Dilbert's characters and plots wouldn't be nearly as funny, or continue to be so popular, if the situations they satirize didn't occur so frequently in real life.

There is no doubt that we-and those in our organizations-can benefit from being more effective leaders. It's not complicated, and we don't have to aspire to emulate great generals, like George Patton. If you trust yourself, you can be a better leader whether you're an introvert, an extrovert, a boss, or a peer.

Connect With the Big Picture

When I researched executive leadership as a doctoral student at George Washington University, I concluded that many highly educated people have systematically had their intuitive leadership abilities trained out of them. We have been repeatedly tested and certified for the proverbial trees instead of the forest. We spend our careers getting paid to be good individual specialists.

As a result, too many of us have been conditioned to ignore the big picture, and we get tripped up when our environment changes. Leadership-especially of innovation-requires us to be good generalists, understanding the big picture as part of a team.

Fortunately, effective leadership is fairly straightforward. Here are a four key leadership behaviors-all focused on the big picture-that can accelerate sustainable innovation and transformation:

1. Feel confident and secure. Be friendly, consistent, dependable and emotionally stable. If you're on a mental and emotional roller coaster, it will be hard to influence and lead others.

2. Be humble yet courageous. Be willing to take intelligent risks, but be open to learning from your experiences. When people are arrogant or indecisive, others lose the will to follow them.

3. Support your team, mentor them and share the credit. Successfully getting work done depends on other people. Your attitude toward any major change and the role you play in it will be reflected in your team's performance.

4. Become a better communicator. Listen well, give feedback, and take the time to explain what you want people to do. Words are the building blocks of leadership. Use them wisely and they will pay great dividends, including greater commitment from your employees and better results.

Effective leadership is an important catalyst for innovation and transformation. We may not be able to completely avoid those Dilbert moments, but practicing big-picture leadership behavior will earn you the dedication and enthusiasm of your staff and colleagues.

When effective leadership is combined with great technology and solid project management, you will be more successful at innovating and driving greater business value. You'll also have more fun in the process.

Jack Bergstrand is founder and CEO of Brand Velocity, a consultancy that helps companies accelerate business initiatives. He is a former CIO and CFO at Coca-Cola. Contact him at jb@brandvelocity.com.

Read more about innovation in CIO's Innovation Drilldown.

This story, "Trust Yourself to Be a Leader" was originally published by CIO.

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