The Five Core Competencies For Developing IT Leaders - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
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Larry Tieman
Larry Tieman

The Five Core Competencies For Developing IT Leaders

A 40-year IT veteran shares his framework for grooming high-potential directors for executive-level success.

For CIOs to be business and community leaders, they need to build a strong team of officers and departmental directors that can execute without a lot of detailed direction. Without them, the CIO must spend valuable time on daily execution and less time working with the other corporate leaders, reinforcing the perception that the CIO is technology-centric. So building a strong bench is a prerequisite for success.

Over my 40-year IT career, most recently as senior VP of architecture and technical strategy at FedEx, I've found that most senior IT officers don't do enough to develop the core management skills of their VPs and promising directors. Performance reviews and annual objective-setting exercises are useful -- at best -- in aligning individual tasks, management expectations, and organizational goals. But they don't build leaders. Particularly when it comes to high-potential individuals, developing IT leaders is a continuous process of mostly small exchanges.

Writing from the position of a senior officer, I use a five-dimensional framework which I think sets the core competencies of IT leadership: People, Project, Financial, Executive, and Contract Management. The key to this framework is for senior officer and high-potential individual to use every interaction as an opportunity to help the individual. Those opportunities range from the directional ("Here is what I need from you and these are the things I want you to consider") to the subtle ("Can you find a more positive way to say that?"). The goal is to build a leader skilled in all five core competencies.

Departmental directors should have mastered the basics of managing people, including teaming, motivation, follow-up, task assignment, legal issues, communications, and company policies. But many haven't. High-potential directors often have gotten to where they are because of their deep personal knowledge of an area, a favorable set of circumstances, or a great team. Often, my first step in developing a high-potential director is to move him or her to a new area under a different VP and monitor carefully how the director and VP manage the change.

Typically, another senior officer and I rotate directors between computer or network operations and application development. In one very successful situation, an articulate, personable, but risk-averse director was moved into application development. I told the director the three things you have to learn are how we build software, how to work with business partners, and when to be conservative and when to take a risk--and you should be uncomfortable because you need to be pushing. The instructions to the VP, an experienced development officer, were to not let the director fail, ensure that the development processes were in place and understood, and push the director.

VPs must master even more skills, such as peer and client relationship building, while deepening and broadening the skills that made them successful. At least half of a VP's "people management" development comes from managing (re: influencing) people over whom she or he has no authority. This can be a shock to a hard-charging, recently promoted director who has a reputation for getting things done.

The reputation that got a director promoted can be the obstacle for further promotion to senior officer. In a classic example, a director with a reputation for "getting things done" and for "doing things his own way" was promoted to VP. At that point, "getting things done" was no longer a distinguishing attribute--all VPs get things done. And "doing things his own way" diminished his influence and potential for further promotion even though his work continued to be outstanding.

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