There is a huge demand for top leaders with high-level information technology skills, but there are very few candidates who can fill these positions, says one of South Africa’s leading executive search experts.“We have been receiving a flood of requests for these kinds of leaders from companies who are desperate to fill positions which require both superb technical knowledge as well as visionary, established management skills,” says Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, MD of Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters.

Goodman-Bhyat says that the dearth of supply is a result of the fast pace at which technology develops, whereas a leadership track record is built up over a substantially longer period of time.

“Boards continue to be risk-averse, and seek individuals with proven managerial skills – preferably having been demonstrated in the top sphere either internally or at another company – and gravitas. But to arrive at this top sphere
takes time.

“On the other hand, the candidates with technological expertise and a solid grip on the underlying content, which by its nature moves at an extraordinary pace, have rarely been around long enough to have built up the requisite track record – a situation which caused this current vacuum in the market.”

Goodman-Bhyat says that since the start of the year, there has been a 20% increase in requests for chief information officers.

“But the candidates who have kept up with the tech skills often don’t measure up in the leadership stakes, and vice versa. As a result, there appears to be a change in approach to these kinds of top appointments, in recognition of
the fact that the world is changing.”

She says that businesses would do well to recognise that there are different styles of leadership – transformational, transactional and network leadership – which are required at different stages of an organisation’s development.
Depending on the business cycle that a corporation finds itself in, alternative approaches may be required.

In the IT leadership challenge instance, what is typically required is transformational leadership capability (coupled with some healthy network-type skills) – as the technology environment in most organisations is in constant flux.

“Until the last decade, the awareness of leadership wasn’t even an issue. Now it is a top priority on company agendas. People are starting to understand the importance and impact thereof, but need to also understand that leadership comes in various forms.

“Without strong skippers, companies are doomed. This is why, despite tough economic times and freezes on hiring at other levels, executive appointments are still very much in a growth phase.

“The message for IT specialists, is to invest in developing their leadership collateral, as companies are realising that they need to trade off on the age and experience requirement in order to make the technically proficient appointments.

“If a candidate is able to demonstrate leadership potential and the active development thereof, it is highly likely that companies will look very favourably on their applications, despite what would have been traditionally considered an insufficient managerial track record.”