The skill set of a CEO can be varied, depending on the industry, the business, and the marketplace. But should a CEO have the technical background in what the business actually creates or produces? Not every industry follows this logic, but it would seem to be a more crucial need for businesses dealing in software and Internet-related matters, and for new and developing companies.
Here’s a look at some benefits to being a tech-savvy CEO.
If a CEO is all thumbs when it comes to the technical stuff — like an elderly person terrified about this newfangled Internet thing — how will that inspire confidence among the managers and employees? CEOs that think of themselves as visionary leaders still need to have a strong sense of the work and details. Aaron Skonnard explores this in a story for Inc.com.
“Tech-savvy CEOs have an easier time earning the trust of their technical group,” he writes. “You can’t fake speaking the same language, and there’s a certain authority and respect you can only command through knowing how to code. Personal experience with coding greases the wheels with everything from time management to delegation, because you know better what outcomes to expect. Asking your programming team to do things that you don’t truly comprehend yourself is tantamount to trying to lead an army with no competency in military strategy.”
Here’s a good example of a tech-savvy leader. A story by Rebecca Grant on Venturebeat.com focuses on Lew Cirne, CEO of software company New Relic. Cirne says he “fell in love with creating software” at 12 years old, when he got his first computer. Now that he’s leading a company, he puts an emphasis on surrounding himself with the right people, and delegates tasks he doesn’t want or need to handle. Yet he stays connected to his roots, and “rolls up his sleeves and codes” from time to time.
“There is a season where I need to be very focused on building software at the code level,” Cirne says in the story. “I went heavy into it in January for what turned into the genesis for our new product. I was heads-down, off-the-grid in remote locations coding. But I can’t do that nonstop. When I came back, I did a complete 180 and visited customers and focused on operations.”
It Builds Rapport
This goes hand-in-hand with the respect factor. Employees will be able to relate to a CEO who has that knowledge and background much more than someone who doesn’t. And an office environment that has strong rapport can also create “a no-fear culture,” Skonnard writes.
“When you as a leader understand the technical challenges that your company is trying to solve, you can empower your group to take the risks necessary to find creative solutions,” he says. “By the same token, CEOs who lack tech expertise may quickly experience a disconnect with their developers. When you grasp your team’s needs firsthand, it’s a lot easier to create the type of work environment that can attract and hold onto top talent.”
The Next Generation
Millennials are tech-savvy, plain and simple. Lacking the basic knowledge that younger staffers have mastered can create a large divide, which could be troublesome for the CEO and the direction of the company. Here’s how Arthur Chang describes the millennial effect in a story for Entrepreneur.com.
“A manual that teaches employees how to use an application is a relic today,” he explains. “Millennials are a new breed of business users who enter the workforce with strong expectations of how technology should be delivered and function. … When faced with ‘older-generation’ technology that doesn’t meet their expectations, millennials have the technical savvy to find applications on consumer app stores and to attempt to integrate them into their business world.”
Here’s another advantage to knowing the ins-and-outs, the grunt work and the tech lingo: The CEO will have a much better understanding of the resources required to operate and grow the business. And it allows CEOs to avoid “being at the mercy of the opinions of those more in the know,” Skonnard writes.
“This qualification can also bring a much clearer focus to illuminate exactly what you need to do to improve your business. Without a tech background, for example, it can be difficult for leaders to keep up with the constant changes in software updates, apps, and programming languages that can keep your company at the forefront of your industry (or cause you to lag behind). Tech-savvy leaders, on the other hand, can quickly analyze emerging technologies and decide which ones to adopt or reject.”
A CEO with the right technical background can also help a company navigate its way through a shifting business landscape. A story on Accountingweb.com explored a survey by The Conference Board, which showed that 88 percent of business leaders surveyed believe flexibility and adaptability are a major priority.
“Developing an agile, adaptable workforce that embraces change and aligns itself quickly will be tomorrow’s competitive differentiator,” according to Carl Steffen of PeopleSoft Human Capital Management. “CEOs who are willing to invest in the people, processes, and technologies that promote these objectives will be the ones who will reap the future benefits.”
It Attracts Talent
The tech-savvy CEO will likely earn a good reputation for this foundation of knowledge. That reputation can spread by word of mouth, which then can catch the attention of potential future hires. And as Skonnard explains in his Inc.com piece, the CEO knows exactly what to look for when searching for new employees.
“… If you’re a coder and programmer in your own right, it’s much easier to identify the characteristics of stellar candidates,” he says. “Since you know what you’re looking for in your software developers and engineers, you can keep a hand in this part of the hiring process — which can be especially crucial at the startup stage. When you have the ability to explain the technical nuances of tech roles, it helps interest the best candidates in the positions.”
Just Don’t Go Overboard
These connections and advantages that a CEO earns can have limits. For example, just because a CEO knows how a certain task is done doesn’t mean he or she should spend time doing it. That’s what the staff is for, and the CEO will surely need to attend to other leadership tasks — or risk getting rusty and losing focus, according to Tim Tuttle in a story for Wired.com.
“Spending too much time in the nitty gritty code can get one bogged down with details. According to Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs never wrote code or created original designs. Even though Jobs lacked an intimate technical knowledge of Apple’s products, it was not a hindrance. His ability to create a vision is what led to Apple’s success.”