When it comes to tech in the classroom, an integral part of a successful system is putting together an unstoppable leadership team to guide the process.
Bobby D. LaFleur, Chief Technology Officer at Spring ISD in Houston, Texas, and a recent Tech & Learning Innovative Leader Award winner for Innovative Chief Technology Officer, discusses how he builds and supports his own IT leadership team.
Using EQ to Develop Great IT Leaders
The first step in building a great IT leadership team is to develop great leaders. This could mean mining for natural talent and finding those with skills to offer, but who might not be the first to raise their voice or take charge.
“When I talk or think about leaders, I am talking or thinking about the technology department as a whole,” says LaFleur. “I see everyone having leadership skills and qualities. They just need to be nurtured.”
While LaFleur’s position as IT leader might seem he would focus more on the nuts and bolts of computer systems than people, he would disagree.
“I see my job as both a creator of leaders and ensuring customers are satisfied with the services provided,” he says. “Emotional intelligence encompasses a considerable number of skills that I use every day. The skills that are vital for me are empathy, respectful listening, accountability, and honesty.”
LaFleur focused on observing and learning from other leaders to improve his own toolkit, but he quickly decided what he was seeing might not be the most effective way to truly take charge. He felt his responsibilities went beyond just being a manager of people and tasks — that relationship management was key.
“I am constantly communicating with people and trying to ensure they are mentally healthy by making them laugh and smile,” he says. “I try to speak or say hello to everyone I am in contact with to show them that they are important by acknowledging them. Doing this makes it easier for them to open up, and I can learn about them on a personal level. As a leader, I wanted to succeed, but I didn't want to do it alone. I wanted to bring others with me.”
Building From Within
LaFleur believes a true leader values their team's opinions and success. This has led to a somewhat unconventional method of pulling together a team.
“When I was the Director of Application Support and needed to bring on a new team member, the interview committee would consist of other directors,” says LaFleur. “The choices didn't always work out. I had to pivot and let my team have an opinion in choosing their team members.”
That shift helped the team thrive and always go above and beyond expectations.
“In allowing them to select their team members, they chose individuals they could be friends with and care about,” says LaFleur. “I sit back and marvel at how they collaborate and work as a team even when the situation isn't in their job function.”
5 Steps to Developing an Unbeatable IT Leadership Team
For anyone looking to develop a long-term, successful IT team, LaFleur suggests:
- Set a Leadership Example — Staying in control, even in challenging situations, ensures a team knows their leader believes in them and their abilities to do the job.
- Empower — Empowering leaders to make choices and take calculated risks can help them build confidence and gain experience.
- Mentor — Creating opportunities for leaders to make decisions and take ownership creates a positive environment for people to be their best.
- Provide Feedback — Create an entrepreneurial and empowered environment and then support the team’s efforts with thoughtful feedback in a collaborative way.
- Encourage — Being an encourager helps individual team members think outside of the box when finding solutions to a problem.
Growing the Next Generation of IT Leaders
Internships are a significant part of career research, so one day each year, LaFleur’s technology department presents to the students in conjunction with the Career and Technical Education (CTE) department.
“We discuss various career opportunities they may explore within the technology field,” says LaFleur. “This program allows CTE students to apply for our summer internship program to experience paid on-the-job training. The summer jobs are lower-level jobs that fall within the Technical Services team.”
This opportunity offers more than just lip service. In fact, of LaFleur’s current staff, ten members came through this program. They now participate in the presentation and explain to current students how the internship, job exposure, and discussions with staff members during their time in the program helped in choosing an academic and career path to secure a position within the department.
“After their high school and college careers, they joined our technology team and now represent the three different technology teams,” says LaFleur. “Every summer, we have three or four CTE students in our program.”