Nov 012016

“Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra.” Steve Jobs attributed this quote to a famous conductor in the film Steve Jobs. It’s hard to come up with a more vivid illustration of leadership. It acknowledges that conductors may be less adept at playing instruments than any of the players in front of them — and other instruments not at all — yet they elicit brilliant performances. I have been told by a San Francisco Symphony musician that guest conductors can in a few rehearsals have the orchestra sounding like the orchestras where they are based.

Leadership, per Webster, means “the quality of a leader; capacity to lead”. In recent years, the word has become ever more prominent in business schools and the business press. Good “management” is no longer enough for an organization to compete successfully and “administration” calls to mind stultifying bureaucratic procedures even though it’s the A in the MBA degree. It’s not that leadership was ever UNimportant, it’s just that keeping the trains running on time and effectively managing resources — people, facilities, money — are more attuned to needs of stable or slowly evolving environments.

Today, when everybody wants to disrupt theirs or somebody else’s business and new technologies that let them do it seem to appear almost daily, people with the “capacity to lead” are critical, and nowhere more than in the exploitation of IT. Obvious though this is, how to recognize, empower and sustain good technology leaders has been a challenge. People who can think strategically about what, why and how to deploy technology but who have trouble delivering it (and vice versa) fall short as technology leaders. Both skills are needed.

An upcoming issue of Cutter Business Technology Journal will examine what we really mean by “Technology leadership” and to add depth and texture to the question of how best to find and nurture it. Specific questions to address include, but should not be limited to:

  • What does “capacity to lead” really mean?
  • How do well-led organizations differ from poorly led ones, and not just in their bottom lines?
  • As specifically as possible, what are the hallmarks of a well-led IT organization?
  • Is technology leadership different from leadership of professionals in general? If so, how?
  • Do different parts of IT require different leadership than others, e.g., operations vs software releases vs digital innovation?
  • What do technology leaders do significantly better that sets them apart from managers and administrators?
  • What challenges do leaders face in aligning the right technology with the organization’s business goals?
  • What is the relative importance of such positive attributes of leaders as personal charisma, people skills, political skills, persuasiveness both within IT and the boardroom, entrepreneurial bent, subject matter expertise, strategic thinking, ability to inspire, boldness, risk-taking, setting an example, fairness, anticipating problems and opportunities, coolness under fire, etc. in technology leadership? How does the emphases differ according to the role of IT in the organization?
  • What are examples of excellent technology leadership, widely recognized or from personal experience? What made them excellent?
  • What are examples of screw-ups caused by lack of good technology leadership, widely recognized or from personal experience? What aspects of leadership were deficient?
  • How can technology leaders meet the challenges of today’s organizations such as cutting costs while still innovating? Or addressing the always present cyber-security or data privacy threats?
  • Can a person be an effective technology leader without ever having worked in IT?
  • How can a technology leader maximize team performance to create competitive advantage?
  • How can we recognize and nurture potential technology leadership talent?
  • Given that a technology leader is not the CEO, COO or CFO, what special attributes are needed to ensure IT plays as full and strategic a role as the nature of the enterprise can justify?
  • Given that great technology leaders are not easy to find, what can subordinates do to make the best of the situation when the incumbent who should be a leader is only fair or even poor?

ARTICLE IDEA DEADLINE: NOVEMBER 18, 2016. Please send your article idea to Paul Clermont at clermontconsulting[at]gmail[dot]com with a copy to Christine Generali at cgenerali[at]cutter[dot]com and include an extended abstract and a short article outline showing major discussion points.




Christine Generali

Christine Generali is a Group Publisher for Cutter Consortium - responsible for the editorial direction and content management of Cutter's flagship publication, Cutter IT Journal.


  One Response to “Leadership in a Digital World”

  1. Thank you very much this great inspirational article regarding leadership, your article helped me a lot to understand the situation of digital leadership and how to overcome this.

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