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Career advice: What separates leaders from managers?

Mujib Lodhi | Feb. 5, 2014
Premier 100 IT Leader Mujib Lodhi also answers questions on keeping abreast of technology and the value of certifications.

a) Move your thought processes away from hard-core technology fundamentals to understanding the business. Take off your IT hat and begin to wear the business hat instead. Learn what makes the business tick. While other departments may only carry knowledge of their own departmental activities, understand that IT has a role to play across all departmental functions. This one simple shift of focus can alone add substantial value and respect from your fellow business counterparts.

b) Don't measure your success based on the success of IT systems and support functions, but by how you directly contribute to the success of the organization itself. Ask yourself: How is IT contributing to the success of the business? A good manager may excel at ensuring that all fundamental IT activities are performing above expectations but will nonetheless only be recognized by the organization as a cost center in a supporting role. To become an IT leader, you must break from traditional roles and transform yourself and your team to add or create new value to the business. Also, never assume that the business sees your success as a leader in the same way as you might be measuring it. Always look at it in terms of how the business really sees you.

c) Finally, pass on this same approach to your team. Empower them, but never let your performance at the fundamental levels slip. Encourage your team to interact with the business side and become experts in how the organization operates. Develop partnerships between IT and the various business functions.

How can a fiftysomething IT professional best compete with the youngsters? I love my career and don't want to get shunted aside because I am perceived as having outdated skills.
First and foremost, never allow yourself to become discouraged over the issue of age as a factor in how you are perceived, since real value simply cannot be measured by age alone. We do, however, live in a very dynamic era, especially as it relates to the growing role of technology as a strategic condition of business success. Customers are changing, the business is changing and technology is changing at a rapid pace, and it is imperative that you keep your skills up to date to keep up with these increasing demands. In this way, we are all on a continuous learning curve; we will always be students. The day you stop learning is the day you will have trouble competing, and this has nothing to do with age.

There are a couple of methods you might employ to kick-start your learning habit to make updating your skills an ongoing practice. Traditional training classes are an obvious choice for staying up to date, but given how technology is converging, you might consider training in subjects that have been traditionally separated from your area of expertise. For example, if you have been focused on network administration, then look at converging technologies such as VoIP as a means of adding value to your organizational knowledge and skill sets.


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