Tech Leadership: 5 Hot Trends You Need to Embrace (and 3 to Give Up)

Over the past two years, tech leaders have replaced tried-and-true practices with new approaches, mindsets and competencies to effectively lead others through rapid change.

Where are we now? What constitutes effective tech leadership today? To help you stay on the cutting edge, here are some of the leadership practices, styles and skills that are increasingly important and trending upward—and some that are less effective and growing cold. 

Trending Up: Championing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I)

New research confirms companies that build diverse and inclusive teams and an “Innovation By All” culture generate more high-quality ideas, realize greater speed in implementation, and achieve greater agility—resulting in 5.5 times the revenue growth of their less inclusive peers.

Innovation has always been critical for business growth, but now it’s integral to business survival, explained James Alcock, CTO, CIO and IT director. With 80 percent of tech leaders saying they are responsible for driving their companies’ innovation efforts, becoming a DE&I champion is no longer optional—it’s imperative.

Trending Up: Maximizing Peer Relationships

The role and influence of tech leaders has expanded beyond merely explaining new technologies to other C-level executives and board members. Going forward, tech leaders must be capable of building and sustaining peer relationships and bringing them along on the journey, Alcock said.

Indeed, research shows that tech leaders need to work cross-functionally with their C-suite peers in order to achieve their goals. However, the journey from peer influence to peer advantage requires a mix of social and emotional skills, transparency and technical skills. Actively developing those skills can give you the opportunity to advance.

Trending Up: Developing Employees

Tech leaders have been so busy solving technological challenges across the enterprise that they didn’t realize they have a problem: excessive turnover.

To stem the high churn, tech leaders are intentionally focusing on creating an environment where people can grow, explained Joe Woodruff, executive coach and co-founder of CIO Mastermind. That environment includes upskilling, especially for soft skills, and an emphasis on creating a positive employee experience.

Trending Up: Customer-Centric Leadership

It’s no longer enough to have an arm’s length relationship with customers and a vague understanding of how technology impacts their journey. The time has come for tech leaders to get out in front of the customer. In fact, a recent survey of 1,400 IT executives found that the customer experience (CX) is a top strategic priority, above IT security/compliance, IT strategy and digital transformation.

Customer-centric leaders realize that technology shapes the customer’s entire relationship with the company. They have the capacity to interface directly with customers, understand their needs, meet their evolving expectations and help drive top- and bottom-line growth.

Trending Up: Self-Awareness

Self-awareness has become an essential trait of effective tech leaders. Why? Self-aware leaders actively reflect on how their words, actions and behaviors are perceived by others and work to change any shortcomings so they can lead more effectively.

Trending Down: Directive Leadership

Sometimes rescuing a troubled project requires leaders to direct the activities of team members, at least for a short time. But for the most part, using your formal authority to get things done is out.

Directive leadership is being replaced by empowerment, sharing information and delegating authority and decision-making, and asking knowledge workers for their opinions. This practice or model is often referred to as purpose-driven or values-driven leadership.

Research has regularly demonstrated that empowering knowledge workers is associated with stronger job performance, job satisfaction and commitment to the organization. Advocacy skills are also an important tool to help leaders bring people together around significant issues and compel them to action.

Trending Down: Working 24/7

Expecting remote workers to be connected and available to work 24/7 can lead to burnout, poor health and poor productivity. The concept of working 24/7 is dated, Alcock explained: “Treating people with respect buys a lot of goodwill.”

While tomorrow’s tech leaders (and technologists) will continue to need technical skills, their roles are becoming more business-focused.

Technology is no longer just a business automator and enabler—it is the business, Woodruff noted. That’s a very important distinction. To succeed in delivering business value and meeting these higher expectations, tech leaders will need strong business and industry knowledge, a growth mindset, and the ability to unify business and technology strategies.