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Mastercard CTO reveals must-have executive leadership traits

Taking a deliberate approach to technology decisions and good judgment are the pivotal executive leadership traits for enterprise success, according to Kush Saxena, CTO of Mastercard.

In this video from the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Saxena outlined his approach to IT leadership, which includes practicing humility when assessing emerging technology.

What is one of the executive leadership traits that's essential to being a good IT leader today?

Kush Saxena: I think good judgment -- and I say that because technology is evolving at a pace faster than any of us can deal with or absorb individually. I think the perspective that a single person will be an expert and a true deep practitioner on any single technological issue is a false perspective. I don't think that's going to be true.

I think technology also ultimately represents tools and how those tools work in your environment and your context varies widely. A lot of people would think that going to the cloud, for instance, is an incontrovertible, [non]debatable goal, but the truth is something like: The cloud works very well for certain kinds of businesses, [but] for other businesses it doesn't. I think the combination of both of those things -- which is the business context in which technologies applied have wide variance of outcomes and the fact that it's very hard for any single person to be a true expert on technology -- I think puts tremendous stress on us as IT leaders [to be able] to take multiple perspectives and apply good judgment to get to the right outcomes.

It's very, very easy to get lost in the hype cycle on technology and make the wrong decisions which can be very expensive to come back from.

The theme of MIT Sloan CIO Symposium 2019 is the IT exec's role in building a smart enterprise and how important executive-level traits are to business development. What is the toughest part of your job?

Saxena: The hardest thing about the job, that I also enjoy the most, is developing great talent. If you think about both of those elements, where on one hand you've got just crazy high-paced technology evolution and a ton of internal debate on how those get applied in ways that create value and make sense. Not only do you need judgment, you need to pass the judgment down to your people. Especially if you're an IT leader of a large organization, you can't let decision-making get concentrated. That's a path to slowing down, and if you slow down I think that creates issues on go-to-market space on velocity.

You ultimately want to be able to drive that high-quality judgment and decision-making down to individual autonomous teams and their leaders. So developing talent to be able to do that and creating the right organizational models where they have the ability to make decisions and move fast, I'd say, is a big departure from how IT shops have operated in the past, so that makes it hard, but it's also a ton of fun.

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