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Advice for new leaders in IT: You're not an IT executive

Seasoned IT veterans and rookies gathered at this year's Gartner Symposium to learn strategic best practices and discuss the future of the enterprise.

Outside of the venue, Ray Toler, VP of IT and marketing at heat transfer technology company HTRI, offered advice for new leaders in IT. In this video interview with SearchCIO, Toler emphasized the importance of embracing your role in the business and getting accustomed to the inner workings of not only your organization, but also your industry. He detailed three positive upshots of learning the business.

Do you have any advice for new leaders in IT and/or up-and-coming IT execs?    

Ray Toler: This isn't IT specific: Learn your business. You're not an IT executive, you're a business executive. You just work in IT. Learn your business. Learn every single part of your business. Go to the departments, talk to people at every level in the company, find the pain points, listen. That's the key, listening to what they're telling you, because they're going to inform you way better than just having an idea.  

If you are in the oil and gas industry, learn the oil and gas industry -- and your niche in the oil and gas industry. If you're in healthcare, learn healthcare, learn why IT is important. That does a couple of things.

The first is it establishes the dialogue and it establishes trust. People like to be listened to. They like to know that you actually care what they think; that you're not just imposing something on them but rather you are using your expertise to help them with what they're doing.

The second thing it does is it lets you know what's going on in the company, because IT people are at a very interesting intersection between business and technology. With the rapid growth of technology over the last several years, we're in a unique position to be able to see opportunities that others might not see. Learning the business helps you know which technologies are going to be most applicable.

You're not an IT executive, you're a business executive. You just work in IT.

The third piece -- and this plays off the trust thing -- when people listen to you and you listen to them, there's an assumption that, 'because I have an iPhone I know tech.' Well, a lot of the times they don't know what the IT team knows, but the IT team doesn't necessarily know what to bring to bear on that particular problem.

When you listen to people, not only are you building that trust but you're able to bring your expertise to bear. It also helps the other person understand that you actually know something that they may not; that you have an expertise that they don't. That's important because once that happens, then you start getting the synergies between two different groups. They've got their expertise, you've got your expertise, together you can make something entirely different and a lot better. 

For more advice for new leaders in IT, read how to succeed in the first 150 days and four critical skills that strengthen the impact of IT leaders.

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Do you have any advice for new leaders in IT and/or up-and-coming IT execs?
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1) Do not tell business users how complex the IT tools, techniques & processes are. IT executives should learn to understand business complexities and adopt appropriate tools to meet business objectives without glorifying their own world.
2) Up to a point business cares (& thus listens) about the technical sophistication of the IT tools used, beyond that point they just need to get the job done. If the tool is robust, meets the business requirements of today and 2+ years, its good enough. IT executives should not "crib" if the business did not approve their choice of most advanced, latest tool to get the "job" done.
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3) IT Executives should learn to identify "must have" and "nice to have" requirements as spelled out by the business users relatively quickly and then focus on meeting the must haves in a fastest feasible way.
4) IT executives should understand that instead of spending resources and their energy to achieve most ideal, (near perfect) solution, implementing even a 75~80% perfect solution now can give enormous benefits to business.
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