by Paul Heltzel

5 hot IT leadership trends — and 4 going cold

26 Feb 20249 mins
CareersIT Leadership

Uncertainty, the rise of AI, and shifting forces in what constitutes winning culture are spurring IT leaders to revisit how they lead, coach, hire, and prepare IT for the future.

Group of business people brainstorming together in meeting room. Business colleagues discussing a new business strategy plan. Successful african american businessman doing presentation to his partners
Credit: Ground Picture / Shutterstock

Amid disruptive leaps in technology, leaders who will succeed in the near future, say experts, are the ones who stay focused on a decidedly low-fi resource: their employees. 

CIOs and others who manage technology teams are advised to see beyond the churn of constant upskilling, and consider what people excel at: creativity and critical thinking, business strategy, and building strong relationships that increase employee satisfaction while boosting the organization’s performance.

Emerging trends include leaders stepping back to evaluate their own approaches to communication, management, and hiring. Falling away are rigid thinking around how talent is discovered, fostered, and retained.  

Here tech leaders discuss how they’re innovating in an uncertain world by returning to the basics of good leadership, building trust, promoting transparency, and leaning into strategy over skillset.

Hot: Soft leadership skills

Tech leaders frequently mention soft skills as a key aspect of successful teams, and they prioritize those skills when hiring. But Eric McNulty, associate director at the Harvard National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, says executives are increasingly looking to evaluate their own strengths in this area.

“I think this arises in part because of the personal stress of the pandemic, in part from general societal turbulence, and in part because of the challenges of attracting and retaining talent,” McNulty says.  

Executives want to get better at listening, self-reflection, empathy, and developing a growth mindset, he says. 

“In the executive education programs in which I teach, I’ve actually had hard-nosed veteran executives thank me and my colleagues for creating the space where these topics can be discussed openly,” he says. “We’re doing more sessions along these lines.”

Cold: Relying on tech skills alone

The widespread adoption of AI means there will be less need for specifc skill sets, says Thomas Mehlkopf, head of working capital management at SAP and Taulia. Instead, he argues, tech leaders who excel at business strategy and analysis will be more in demand. 

“This involves having a deeper understanding of the businesses in which they operate and work with,” Mehlkopf says, “and the ability to critically reflect on the output. For any AI model, you can’t interpret the relevance and reliability of the output if you don’t understand the context of the data.”

He points to a recent observation from GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke, who noted 40% of computer-generated code was adopted by developers beta testing its Copilot AI automated code-writing system. The test also cut programming time by 55%.  

“Many people believe this will increase to 80%,” Mehlkopf said. “If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that any specific IT skill can be made redundant any time.”

But one’s knowledge of the business and ability to drive business value will prove the exception.

Hot: Getting comfortable with uncertainty

To address disruptions across multiple aspects of the business, organizations need to be able to pivot quickly, says DeVry University CIO Chris Campbell. And their leaders need to get used to dealing with predictable ambiguity.  

“Specifically, leaders need to provide frameworks that allow disparate teams, sometimes self-organized, to effectively drive necessary results,” he says. “You need to lead through influence and empowerment and facilitate strong cross-functional collaboration.”

Harvard’s McNulty says ongoing uncertainty is prompting more interest in futures and scenario planning.

“There seems to be less interest in linear planning that assumes a lot of constancy,” he says. “Instead, there’s a desire for more fluid approaches that envision multiple possible futures. The old models simply aren’t enabling enough nimbleness in the face of rapidly evolving operating environments.”

Cold: Command and control management

Traditional top-down leadership styles ineffectively address emerging challenges, argues Abhishek Shah, founder and CEO of Testlify.

“Leaders who rely solely on authority are falling out of favor in an era that values open communication and teamwork, potentially hindering employee engagement and adaptability,” Shah says. “Leaders must recognize and navigate these shifts to stay competitive.”

Technology leaders who are rigidly tied to their hierarchy will struggle, agrees Michael Everest, CEO and founder at edYou. 

“That approach can slow things down and stifle innovation,” Everest says. “Teams have more say working together, and keeping communication open helps leaders tackle challenges in IT.”

Hot: Tailored training

It’s widely understood that any technology is only as good as the people developing and managing it, so some leaders are looking to upskill their staff internally, building up resources that are both close at hand and specifically tailored to the organization’s needs. 

“Companies worldwide are now developing their own mini versions of structured education — from local IT boot camps to organizing internal courses about specific technologies inviting experts from different cloud providers,” says Andrey Ivashin, CIO at Dyninno Group. “This approach allows companies to develop their talent internally, improve brand loyalty, and enhance their competitive edge.”

Ivashin describes these programs as focused and practical, and they provide hands-on experience with solving business problems. Those skills can then be quickly employed within the organization.

Cold: Relying on degree requirements to measure talent

Falling out of favor is a hiring philosophy that equates university degrees with competence, Ivashin says. And a more fluid hiring approach helps attract and retain top talent by making it clear they’ll be exposed to the latest, most innovative technology and platforms and given the time and support to learn them. 

“While salary and perks still play a significant role, if you truly want to win IT talent over, tell them about the exciting tech stack they will work with and have the chance to learn about,” he says. “Tell them how your company is ahead of the curve in implementing a certain technology or platform, and they will have a chance to be part of it, but most importantly — emphasize how their skills and experience could grow while making an actual impact on their careers.”

Ivashin says newly minted college graduates rarely show up to the job with the skills you need, so why focus on their degrees when hiring?

“Freshly graduated IT students, to be frank, most of the time are not able to do anything useful straight out of university,” he says. “The education they receive there is rather limited and very often outdated by the time they graduate. Their degree has taught them the basics, the way to troubleshoot problems and work in groups, and hopefully it’s shown them that learning is a lifelong process, especially in the world of IT. Universities will remain important for research, scientific specialties, and so on, but they will increasingly lose their relevance when it comes to preparing actual students for actual jobs.”

Hot: Transparency

Many tech leaders struggle with creating a culture of genuine transparency, even as project stakeholders now demand more of an open-book approach, DeVry’s Campbell says.

“It’s important to be clear in terms of what the technology team is doing and how they are performing, and where the company technology ecosystem roadmap is headed. And you need to maintain strong curiosity as to what the opportunities might be. You have to put both together to enable yourself as a strong leader on your executive team.”

Recent research on trends in the workplace from Deloitte describes transparency as sharing “decisions, results, strategies, and practices freely with workers, customers, investors, and other stakeholders.”

The report found that workers in high-trust companies are half as likely to leave and are much more likely to be motivated and take on extra responsibilities. Those colleagues are also generally more productive, with higher job satisfaction, and even healthier.

Cold: Annual reviews

DeVry’s Campbell says the idea of the annual performance review has run its course in an agile world, which he thinks employees may see as punitive versus achievement-oriented. 

“Leaders need to give constant and consistent feedback while asking for the same, throughout the year,” he says. “We need to coach in the moment not once a year. There’s also a lot more focus in recent years on creating a safe learning environment for employees to have the ability to fail and for that to be OK.”

Hot: Sustainability

Concern around the resources needed to power AI is prompting calls for tech leaders to address sustainability in more concrete ways than adding recycling bins around the office, says Rhonda Dibachi, CEO of

Research firm Gartner estimates that, in the next few years, a quarter of CIOs will see their compensation tied to their ability to create results around sustainability

“Historically, IT departments have been insulated from the full force of consumer and investor sustainability demands,” Dibachi says. “But this year, with the seeming ubiquity of AI initiatives, I foresee a significant change, with IT leadership being pulled into the fray.”

Dibachi notes that the maturing of AI brings with it some well-known concerns about the technology’s need for power. Gartner estimates AI could account for 3.5% of the world’s electricity by 2030 and stresses CIOs’ need to take action to mitigate this impact, including prioritizing cloud providers powered by renewable energy.

Dibachi says tech leaders who prioritize sustainability will prepare their organizations for success, and align with the business interests of the company, the interests of the board of directors, and the vision of the C-suite. 

“Of course, sustainability in IT leadership should be about more than just solar-powering new AI data centers,” she says. “It should also be about recycling IT assets, improving the energy efficiency of all IT efforts, and managing sustainable practices with IT vendors. Embracing sustainability in IT leadership is a smart, strategic move for CIOs.”