What it takes to succeed as a leader in tech

Navigating organizational politics and dealing with ambiguity are among the most difficult adjustments leaders have to make in 2021 and beyond. Some of the key challenges over the next decade: agility, developing future-focused skills, digital-tech advancement and social responsibility. 

During my research (ref: Forbes and Rework articles) and my study at Berkeley HaaS (COBE), I learned about the following future trends and human intelligence needs for future tech leaders. 

The Future Trend

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These trends make the job of future leaders in technology more exciting than ever before but also present a number of challenges. In the process of doing research, studying, and interviewing with leaders at LinkedIn, I have identified some helpful strategies to address the changing nature of technology leadership. I’ve broken the key learnings into three categories:

  • What is needed to succeed as future tech leaders? 
  • How to succeed as a leader in technologies in 2021 and beyond
  • Inspiring stories from leaders at LinkedIn about future success of technology leaders in their own words

Leadership in 2021 and beyond: What is needed to succeed?

Technical leaders of today’s organizations are expected to show greater business acumen with the right mix of people and business skills and other interpersonal capabilities.

Technology has an unmistakable congruity on modern organizations. The varying scope of technology leadership roles will evolve and expand further in the coming years to cater to the dynamic market demands, customer landscape, technological discoveries, security parameters, and business requirements.

Tech-driven companies understand the relevance and purpose of technical advancements and innovations, which in turn make it easier for them to embrace the shift in tech leadership roles. In fact, organizational trends are changing in terms of technological shifts, and with that we can expect a lot of dynamism in tech leadership roles in 2021 and beyond.

Future tech leaders are meant to exhibit knowledge and skills in more than just one field. Apart from the latest technologies, they need a skillset around process engineering, software development, IT security, infrastructure architecture, data analysis, business intelligence and so on. At the same time, tech-savvy companies also need to ensure that the technical leaders illustrate a fair amount of leadership, ownership and decision-making abilities to support and guide the teams working under them.

In totality, the tech leadership roles in 2021 are going to be more spontaneous, multidimensional, and ROI-driven with C-suite tech executives having an elevated business sense.

Leadership in 2021 and beyond: How to succeed

There are many technology leaders already doing these things well today. After speaking with many of them, as well as doing my own research, I noticed a pattern emerge around how they were successful. Below are the strategies, mindset, skillset and tools that consistently came up:

Strategies: 

  • Keep technology, business, processes, and people under the same roof
  • Play the role of business differentiator & innovator
  • Acquire vital skills with a balanced approach
  • Play the role of strategists & business process enablers
  • Explore more and experiment
  • Converge technology with business to drive impactful results

Mindset

  • Awareness
  • Vulnerability
  • Courage
  • Flexibility & adaptability
  • Agility
  • Humble but “I-know-it-all” (Technology + Business + People + Process)
  • Growth mindset

Skill Sets

  • Leadership
  • Strategy
  • Decision making
  • People management
  • Social & Emotional Intelligence
  • Communication
  • Business Intelligence & Acumen
  • Personalization + Experimentation + Automation + Scale
  • Technical skills (Data Analysis, AI, Engineering, Tech Writing, etc.)

Tools

  • Community and Social Network: are great for building and practicing new skills and expanding your network
  • Coaching: Build your mentors, sponsors and advocates
  • Public speaking
  • Training and development: Master tough conversations, company politics, and persuading your peers, reports, and managers
  • Books: highly recommend the following books:
  • Professional Presence: How to Look, Sound and Act Like a Leader in any Job (link) (Authors: Marne Platt, Cindy Steiner)
  • PREP for Success: How to Position Yourself and Your Requests to Get the Answers You Need (link) (Authors: Marne Platt, Cindy Steiner)
  • Designing Your Life (link) (Authors: Bill Burnett, Dave Evans)

Blindspots

Some cultural and behavioral leadership norms that worked well in the past, are no longer effective. Organizations are suffering from a series of blind spots and are holding on to leadership behaviors — such as command and control — that might have worked in the past but now stymie the talents of employees throughout their organizations.

  • Command and control
  • Deficient Skill Sets
  • Outdated Mindsets
  • Lack of technology savviness
  • Lost touch with building personal relationship s
  • Lack of focus on attract, engage, develop, and retain talent
  • Lack of inclusion & diversity
  • Not able to shift focus from managing talent to inspiring and engaging people

Advice from a few leaders at LinkedIn 

Leadership teams at LinkedIn are charting a new course and are reimagining what leadership should look, feel, and be like in this new era and incredibly exciting world of work. They state unequivocally through powerful narratives about their leadership style, how they manage high-performing teams, and the mindsets they aspire to create at LinkedIn. 

Based on my interviews with leaders at LinkedIn, I am sharing below some of the very inspiring stories about the future success of technology leaders in their own words.

Jeff Weiner, Executive Chairman at LinkedIn believes the future success of leaders depends on self-awareness, and focus, as well as the ability to inspire and lead. Jeff covers these concepts in greater detail in this LinkedIn Learning course (link ). Highly recommend watching this course on Leadership by Jeff Weiner.

Erica Lockheimer, VP of Engineering, LinkedIn Learning advises future leaders to be great talent builders, and have the ability to provide strategy and direction to the team. The future leaders need to have a growth mindset and surround themselves with trusted advisors, mentors, and sponsors. 

Igor Perisic, Chief Data Officer at LinkedIn advises future leaders to be curious, hungry to learn, experiment, explore new ways to get stuff done and surround themselves with diverse perspectives.

Kapil Surlaker, VP of Engineering at LinkedIn advises future leaders to be good listeners, have a strong bias for action, surround themselves with diverse skills, smarter people and create a psychologically safe place for everyone to feel empowered to take intelligent risks and challenge each other. 

Ya Xu, VP of Data Science at LinkedIn advises future leaders to keep up with the technology advancements, be a learner, make good decisions, be vulnerable, ask for help, be inspiring, own the communication and hold a high level of commitment.

Ronald Lange, Director of Technical Program Management at LinkedIn, advises future leaders to be brave in the face of complexity and the need for change, be good listeners, focus on goals but be open to change, share what they believe but admit when they’re wrong, be their authentic selves and make themselves better over time, hire great people, and support their people in their work, growth and development.

Suja Viswesan, Director of Engineering at LinkedIn, is an advocate for developing emotional intelligence (EQ). She is a mentor and coach to many engineering leaders. She leverages EQ for decision making. She believes in hiring and growing great diverse talent. She acknowledges unconscious bias, welcomes diverse perspectives, and takes pride in building an inclusive work environment. She is not afraid of setbacks. She is bold and focuses on motivation and talent engagement.

Niha Mathur, Director of Enterprise Productivity at LinkedIn advises future leaders to be flexible to adapt to new leadership styles to face uncertain times, be up to date with technology trends, automation tech/productivity, have a holistic view and be able to connect dots in multiple things.

Priyanka Gariba, Sr Manager of Technical Program Management at LinkedIn advises future leaders to learn effective ways of remote management, identify ways of quicker problem solving, effective modes of communication, uplift more women in senior leadership roles and enable diverse perspectives, recognize hard work, invest in talent, allow talent to focus on wellbeing, personal growth and lead by example.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank LinkedIn’s executives and leaders for sharing their inspiring stories and advice on future success of technology leaders in their own words. Special thanks to Jeff Weiner (Executive Chairman), Erica Lockheimer (VP of Engineering, LinkedIn Learning), Igor Perisic (VP of Engineering, Data R&D), Kapil Surlaker (VP of Engineering, BigData and Analytics), Ya Xu (VP of Engineering, Data Science), Ronald Lange (Director, Data R&D Technical Program Management), Suja Viswesan (Director of Engineering, Data Applications and Products), Priyanka Gariba (Senior Manager, Artificial Intelligence Technical Program Management) and Niha Mathur (Director, Enterprise Productivity Technical Program Management) for their support and encouragement.

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