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.

Jonathan Feldman, CIO, City of Asheville, NC

February 25, 2013

3 Min Read

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.

About the Author(s)

Jonathan Feldman

CIO, City of Asheville, NC

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human resources management. Asheville is a rapidly growing and popular city; it has been named a Fodor top travel destination, and is the site of many new breweries, including New Belgium's east coast expansion. During Jonathan's leadership, the City has been recognized nationally and internationally (including the International Economic Development Council New Media, Government Innovation Grant, and the GMIS Best Practices awards) for improving services to citizens and reducing expenses through new practices and technology.  He is active in the IT, startup and open data communities, was named a "Top 100 CIO to follow" by the Huffington Post, and is a co-author of Code For America's book, Beyond Transparency. Learn more about Jonathan at Feldman.org.

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