A new IBM Corp. global study of today's university and graduate students reveals unique Gen-Y traits that paint a profile of the IT manager of the future whose leadership strategy is built on an affinity for social networking and a global approach to innovation.
"Running the business of IT is not as focused on IT as it is connecting with the business and the innovation," said Matt Porta, who leads the technology strategy practice at the Armonk, New York-based company.
The Global Youth Study, conducted from September 2009 to January 2010, polled 3,613 students across 40 countries including Canada. The findings reveal that the leadership style of Gen Yers is marked by an inclination toward social networking, multi-tasking, globalization and sustainability.
Moreover, 7 out of 10 respondents studying IT-related programs viewed creativity as an important leadership quality. Porta said the traditional "very smart and slightly introverted geek" image of the IT manager is slowly making way for a new IT leader who will push a fun way to connect and collaborate using social networking.
"Future leaders will be really well prepared to step into these new IT roles," said Porta.
Although Gen Yers are identifying new leadership traits for the future, that doesn't mean hard skills like data centre management will be of less importance. Porta said it's just that this new generation of extroverted IT professionals brings forth new skills that will be "table stakes" in the enterprise.
The Gen Y students were also twice more likely than CEOs to focus on globalization, the study found. Historically, the IT organization has been run in a decentralized manner where the challenges have been to connect all components of the business, said Porta. But these future leaders will find it incomprehensible to operate a business differently across multiple locations, as was evidenced by one respondent who wrote: "Organizations need to start looking at the world as if they were standing on the moon."
And, while sustainability is in its infant stages in most of today's business strategies, that definitely won't be the case when Gen Yers start running operations. Porta said the perspective of tomorrow's leaders on sustainability aligns with IBM's smarter planet vision of a world connected by smart meters and green technology.
"We really do view technology as moving outside the back office, coming in the forefront and helping define what is possible in business," said Porta.
Bernard Courtois, president and CEO with Ottawa-based Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), is not surprised by the traits revealed by the IBM study. But he did note the important differentiator among future leaders will be those who can milk social networking for a true business advantage.
"There has to be re-invention of how companies work and how groups work to take advantage of the fact that social networking can be a very productive and effective way to share knowledge and work today," said Courtois.
The challenge is that few social networking tools today have a strong focus on the business environment, said Courtois. And, he added, leaders who fail to recognize the affinity that tomorrow's workers have for social networking will be "out of touch."
As for the more global outlook on business, Courtois thinks this has changed considerably from three to four years ago when only a minority entertained a global perspective. "Young people today are much more international in their perspective just because they are plugged in to what's happening everywhere," he said.
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