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4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave

When it comes to creating IT job satisfaction, it's not what CIOs and other IT leaders say. It's what they do.

A few weeks ago, in "How To Scare Off Your Best IT People," I noted that with the job market heating up, organizations must fix the disconnect between what they say ("Employees are our most important asset!") and what they do. Readers and colleagues weighed in that the problem goes well beyond poor communications. Too many of our leaders fall down in the following areas.

1. They're Inconsistent

Strong leaders behave the way they expect their people to behave, or as Kouses and Posner state in The Leadership Challenge, they "model the way."

I remember working at a place where top executives talked about our having to sacrifice, having to cut back on training, only to book an expensive "destination" trip for themselves. Leaders must think about what they're telling their people and then ask themselves if they pass muster. Your people are watching, and they're not stupid.

2. They're Not Accountable

Leaders always talk about accountability, but do they expect to be held accountable? A question for leaders: Has anyone given you critical feedback lately?

When one of my staffers invites me to sit down privately for some critical feedback, I consider that being held accountable. I thank the employee for the feedback and -- critical to accountability -- follow up after a period of time to make sure that I have acted on it.

If you're not hearing any critical feedback, it's not that you're perfect; it's that staffers think you view yourself as above accountability. Or they're afraid to tell it to you straight. It's what my InformationWeek colleague Charles Babcock calls a master/slave relationship. And what's the first thing on any slave's mind? Escape!

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3. They're Inauthentic

A mentor of mine once said to me: "If you don't give a flip about an employee's kids, don't ask about them. It's worse to be a fake than to not ask."

Employees spot fakery a mile away, and it's incredibly damaging to a leader's credibility. Credibility is critical because leaders must often ask employees to trust them and do things outside of their comfort zones.

4. They're Not Candid

Authenticity is a close cousin of candor. In describing San Francisco Giants CIO Bill Schlough, InformationWeek's 2012 Chief Of The Year, an AT&T VP recalls a difficult conversation that Schlough, his customer, initiated with him after a problem. "I knew I was in trouble," the AT&T VP recalls, "but I didn't feel like it" -- because Schlough treated him with blunt candor. Similarly, great leaders don't avoid difficult conversations with their people. They meet them head on -- but with humanity, as a partner.

According to a recent survey by staffing firm Randstad Technologies, 54% of employers plan to offer higher starting salaries for new IT employees, up from 42% last year. So take note, fellow IT leaders -- the "slaves" have plenty of other options.

IT pros continue to tell me that the No. 1 reason they consider leaving their employers is bad leadership. (I either attract the disgruntled or I'm easy to talk to.) I always tell those people that they should consider themselves free agents. At the end of the day, it's not what leaders say that creates job satisfaction; it's what they do. Your actions do speak far louder than your words.

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User Rank: Apprentice
2/25/2013 | 6:25:07 PM
re: 4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave
The second part of #2 would, from the employee POV, be a big deal. I worked for someone once who always asked what help I needed. I always made the same request and was assured it would happen, then crickets. The idea of circling back at a given timeframe is great. Lorna Garey, IW Reports
User Rank: Ninja
2/25/2013 | 6:42:20 PM
re: 4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave
I don't see any of this changing. Leaders in companies only care about themselves and their pocket book and are use to getting others to benefit them without remorse. I worked at a very profitable electronics company where the employees were told they were its most important asset then at the first of the year work hours were increased without additional compensation, holidays were reduced, the pension was eliminated, and the employees had to pay more of the healthcare coverage. I also worked at a hospital where nurses were being laid off and benefits cut after which the hospital spend half a million dollars on re-landscaping the front of the building which it didnG«÷t need.
User Rank: Author
2/25/2013 | 7:03:22 PM
re: 4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave
Another hot button not mentioned here is sharing credit with your team for good results. Forward-thinking IT leaders know how to keep the pipeline of future leaders growing; shared credit serves to inspire loyalty. Doesn't everyone get tired of spotlight hoggers -- or worse, stealers?

Laurianne McLaughlin
Destroying Angel
Destroying Angel,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/25/2013 | 7:43:23 PM
re: 4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave
Awh come on! Sure, you need to play good defense. But when offensive (deterrent) is not on the table, you WILL LOSE TO CHINA, RUSSIA and HACKTIVISTS. Guaranteed. Licensed and bonded cyber privateers are really the only workable answer.
User Rank: Strategist
2/25/2013 | 10:38:00 PM
re: 4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave
Jonathan has got it right that the slaves are always restive in their chains. There are also a few in-between stages for IT management and staffers, where management authority can be applied with good results without necessarily invoking the powers of an absolute dictatorship. The best managers usually know what level of authority to bring to the task and put effort and conviction into being persuasive as they explain what needs to be done. Doing the latter often eliminates the need for the former. Charlie Babcock
Andrew Hornback
Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/27/2013 | 1:32:20 AM
re: 4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave
I absolutely have to agree with the first point here. But, it's not always with sacrificing something only to turn around and spend the same money elsewhere - it's in the message and what the department is actually doing. If you have three separate solutions rolled out in three straight years to address the same issue, something's wrong somewhere - and that becomes multiplied when the userbase sees this and asks the IT department why. How does first level support explain to a user why there are 8 different places/facilities to store files in the enterprise when IT management can't explain it to first level support?

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
User Rank: Ninja
2/27/2013 | 2:40:50 AM
re: 4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave
A good friend has a quote from Indira Ghandi in her office: "There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there." :-D
User Rank: Apprentice
2/27/2013 | 11:41:50 PM
re: 4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave
In the mid '80s, there was a large, publicly held, two-letter, independent software vendor that basically told its salespeople (all hired as software sales rookies), "You're new in this industry, so if you fail here, then your software sales career is over." In 2010 or so, there's a medium-to-large, privately held, three-letter, independent software vendor that tells many of its seasoned salespeople, "You're old in this industry, so if you fail here, then your software sales career is over." The master/slave relationship did, does and will continue to exist. Don't forget the "golden handcuffs" found in some high-paying ISV sales environments. Their motto is, "Yes, it's an abusive environment here. If you can't hack it, then get out. There's the door and there's a long line of people waiting to replace you." When the 1992 "Glengarry, Glen Ross" movie was released, there were actually ISV sales managers who recorded Alec Baldwin's scene and brought it to work, not as entertainment, but to show salespeople how things would be from then on. Luckily, the economy soon took off and so did many salespeople who don't tolerate crap like that from managers afflicted by Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2013 | 8:51:00 PM
re: 4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave
Well said!
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