IT Needs Audacity, Adaptiveness and Engagement

Maksim Kabakou/

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Today's IT leaders need to think big.

Lon Zanetta is senior executive adviser at CEB and former CIO of the Federal Reserve.

From “smart government” to a “smarter planet,” we hear every day the bold aspirations of corporations and government agencies. In the U.S., the president’s open government and open data initiatives set huge goals for digital government with broad-scale transparency and extensive data sharing across agencies and with the public at large. In Canada, Blueprint 2020 outlines an ambitious vision of public service. At the same time, security agencies seek to collect and continuously connect billions of data points to anticipate and prevent threats to our citizens.

These previously unimaginable goals are made possible by extraordinary advancements in technology and the extension of network and computing power around the globe and into so many individual hands. Just when we think we’ve solved every problem technology can address, amazing leaps in processing speeds, network bandwidth and data capacities open tremendous new possibilities for technology use to address the most complex of human challenges. Information technologies are at the core of virtually every business and governmental strategy, and IT leaders have unprecedented opportunities to influence and shape critical strategy and policy.

Go Big or Go Home

The maxim “go big or go home” may not have originated as management theory, but nowhere is it more applicable than in today’s IT leadership environment. For IT leaders today, as Uncle Ben sagely counseled in “Spider-Man,” “with great power comes great responsibility.” Technology is an incredible resource, but just a tool, after all, of little value unless it rests in able hands. With leadership ranks in so much flux, while organizations are changing leaders, leaders must change themselves.

New leaders must rethink their approach. Command and control leadership will invariably fail and directive management just cannot keep up – there are too many inputs for any single person to control all the outputs. In this new work environment, people matter very much – they are not industrial-age automatons programmed to perform a limited set of rote functions. Individual analysis, judgment and decision making are essential in this increasingly hyperconnected, digitized world. Every individual is a potential wellspring of insight and innovation, a difference-maker who can take quick action in a key moment of truth with the customer.

The Power of Enterprise Contributors

The self-driven capacity of the individual is powerful, however. The connected network of everyone’s talents is where the extraordinary magic happens. CEB research into employee performance in the new work environment pinpoints the value of “enterprise contributors” who work effectively with and through others. These enterprise contributors have double the impact of individual performers. The primary challenge for today’s leaders is to not only foster the curiosity and creativity of every individual but to also link this collective energy into a power grid of talent and collaboration.

Networked workplaces cannot be machined; they must be crafted. The job of leaders is to weave the talents of their people into a network of common vision and purpose. The collective force of a team’s intellect, experience and passion will be the defining differentiator to high performance and mission success in this intense information age. Individual talents are the fuel and networked performance the engine of achievement.

Ultimately, audacious goals are realized by engaged, impassioned people excited about the mission and serving with adaptive leaders able to rise to these exceptional aspirations.

(Image via Maksim Kabakou/