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Navigating Change: Ways for IT Leaders to Rise Above the Fear

Even when change is positive, it nearly always brings some level of anxiety. Here are three lessons that I’ve learned that may help you prepare for whatever comes your way.

Change is a fact of life, but it nearly always brings some level of anxiety -- even when the change is positive. With change comes a certain amount of uncertainty, especially when we don’t have absolute confidence in what the result will be. Which is why many of us try to avoid change at all costs.

While you may never get over your fear of change, you do need to be able to manage it. And with some practice, you can make it work for you. When you see disruptions as opportunities rather than problems, you are making a conscious mindset change to embrace challenge, instead of avoiding it, and to learn and grow. Avoiding change doesn’t prevent it from happening, it just leaves you unprepared when it does arrive.

Some changes are forced upon you, with little or no warning, such as an illness, a pandemic, or an economic crisis. Or it could be a change that you initiate; for example, switching your career, taking on a new mandate, or forging your business into an emerging market. Regardless of the situation, your ability to tackle change head-on, to overcome and even thrive and succeed under the new circumstances, requires more than just resilience. Managing change requires a deep understanding of your abilities, who you are, the truth of your current reality, and where you want to go.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve lived with change and the uncertainty of the outcome; becoming comfortable in this space took time. Over my 30-year career, my businesses have experienced dramatic upheavals, including the attacks of 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008, and the recent pandemic. While these catastrophic events are nearly impossible to predict, my reaction and the business decisions I subsequently made were the difference in our ability to overcome and survive as a company.

There have also been occasions when I intentionally disrupted my own business. This was necessary to remain competitive and take advantage of growth opportunities in the market. A recent example of this is the emergence of cloud computing as the predominant platform for digital transformation. Our ability to recognize this change many years ago and pivot our product development in this area allowed us to capitalize on the massive movement to the cloud. When the pandemic hit, every company accelerated their digital business -- and we were ready to capitalize on this movement.

What may seem to some as being lucky was a well-planned and organized strategy, made possible because we learned how to anticipate and plan for the inevitable change in business.

The IT industry has undergone a considerable amount of change; but moreover, organizations understand that to compete, stay relevant and engage in a meaningful way with their customers and partners, they need to have a powerful technology foundation. This puts an incredible amount of pressure on IT leaders -- to not only deliver to growing business needs, but to find the balance between maintaining a secure and reliable operational foundation while as the same time building a platform whereby that allows for the business to pivot at a moment’s notice. For IT leaders to thrive, they need to embrace change, deliver when outcomes are unpredictable, build a strong advisory relationship with their business leaders, and attract/retain high-demand skilled resources. None of these are easy: They require IT leaders to manage and thrive in an environment of constant change.

Here are three lessons that I’ve learned to help you to prepare for whatever comes your way.

  1. Have a firm appreciation and understanding of your current reality, who you are, and your current professional goals. As said so brilliantly by Socrates, “Know Thyself.”

  2. Learn to listen more and talk less. Pay attention to where the market is going. Be comfortable asking questions and be open to learning -- to ‘rethink’ what you thought you knew.

  3. Capitalize on every opportunity, no matter how small, provided it's bringing you closer to your goals. Build steady, incremental, and noticeable results that create confidence in your team. Announcing a ‘change management’ strategy does not deliver results. Results that are most meaningful, sustainable, and motivational are those that are made by a small group of people that demonstrate momentum. You are looking for steady, predictable, observable, and tangible results. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team -- show them the way.

As a technology entrepreneur for the last 30 years, I’ve had the pleasure of starting and selling four technology businesses. In each of my endeavors, I had to find a way to re-invigorate the business. Throughout my career, I have followed these steps and realized great success. No matter the change you encounter, I want you to have confidence that you can be in control of your destiny and make change work to your benefit.