When you’re hiring IT leadership, it’s important to get the right person into the position, the first time. But what should you look for in an IT executive? Often, technical and management skills top the list of desired qualities, but there’s a secret characteristic that can be just as or more important than tech credentials: Charisma.
This quality is hard to define, and it’s also one that’s typically looked down on in technical circles. People with charisma may be viewed as “all charm and no brains” — using a persuasive personality to hide the fact that they have no skills or knowledge whatsoever.
While this may occasionally be the case, the truth is that more IT professionals are picking up on the importance of “soft skills” in today’s business landscape, where an ability to relate to stakeholders and the C-suite can get more done than the most brilliant coding or engineering skills.
Why hiring for charisma is important
More and more, IT isn’t just about technical competence. The role of IT is not only to build and maintain systems, but also to effect change, bring others onboard in a strategic direction, and influence peers, department leaders, stakeholders, and customers within a variety of internal and external settings.
The best IT leaders need at least a reasonable, working knowledge of the technologies their companies use. But beyond a fundamental grasp, it may be less important for leaders to demonstrate strong technical skills, and more important to possess soft skills that fall under the broad category of charisma.
How to hire IT leaders for the right qualities
Many professions, including IT, will often promote people based on their current job performance — only to find that they’re not well equipped for a leadership position. For some reason, it’s harder to see when IT pros who truly shine in their roles may flop as a leader. For example, no one would place a star HR manager into a high-level developer role, but high-performing technical resources are routinely dropped into leadership positions without debate.
There’s no doubt IT requires a higher level of technical know-how, but the role of today’s IT leader is aligning with more traditional management roles. To hire the right person for an IT executive position, evaluate the role itself before the likely candidates. Are the responsibilities of this particular role geared toward interacting mainly with the rest of the IT team — or will this leader spend more time communicating with the C-suite, shareholders, and end users? For IT executives whose role is to bridge the tech department with key non-technical people, charisma is more important than hard skills.
IT as a relationship business
In the modern business environment, IT staff members at every level are expected to leave the server room and “sell” ideas, at least internally. For IT leaders, the ability to successfully defend both technical and strategic decisions, and to take command of a situation when problems arise, are increasingly crucial to the overall performance of your organization.
So when you’re promoting IT leaders, look for that elusive quality of charisma to place your company ahead of the curve.