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Reference McKeen, J. D., & Smith, H. A. (2015). IT strategy: Issues and practices (3rd ed.). Pearson

In many ways the qualities that make a good IT leader resemble those that make any other good leader. These can be divided into two general categories: 1. Personal mastery. These qualities embody the collection of behaviors that determine how an individual approaches different work and personal situations. They include a variety of “soft” skills, such as self-knowledge, awareness of individual approaches to work, and other personality traits. Most IT organizations include some form of personal mastery assessment and development as part of their management training programs. Understanding how one relates to others, how they respond to you, and how to adapt personal behaviors appropriately to different situations is a fundamental part of good leadership. One company’s internal leadership document states, “Leaders must exercise self-awareness, monitor their impact on others, be receptive to feedback, and adjust to that feedback.” “The higher up you get in IT, the greater the need for soft skills,” claimed one member. Another noted the positive impact of this type of skills development: “It’s quite evident who has been on our management development program by their behaviors.” An increasingly important component of this quality for IT staff is personal integrity— that is, the willingness to do what you say you are going to do—both within IT and with external parties such as users and vendors. 2. Leadership skill mastery. These qualities include the general leadership skills expected of all leaders in organizations today, such as motivation, team building, collaboration, communication, risk assessment, problem solving, coaching, and mentoring. These are skills that can be both taught and modeled by current leaders and are a necessary, but not sufficient, component of good IT leadership (Bouley 2006). However, good IT leaders are required to have a further set of skills that could be collectively called “strategic vision” if they are going to provide the direction and deliver the impact that organizations are expecting from IT. Because this is a “soft skill,” there is no firm definition of this quality, but several components that help to develop this quality at all levels in IT can be identified, including the following:

• Business understanding. It should go without saying that for an IT leader to have strategic vision, he or she should have a solid understanding of the organization’s current operations and future direction. This is well accepted in IT today, although few IT organizations have formal programs to develop this understanding. Most IT staff are expected to pick it up as they go along, mostly at the functional business process level. This may be adequate at junior levels, but being able to apply strategic vision to a task also involves a much broader understanding of the larger competitive environment, financial management, and marketing. “Our customers are now our end users. With our systems now reaching customers and reaching out horizontally in the organization and beyond, IT staff all need a broader and deeper appreciation of business than ever before,” said one manager. • Organizational understanding. A key expectation of strategic vision in IT is enterprise transformation (Korsten 2011; Mingay et al. 2004). This involves more than just generating insights into how technology and processes can be utilized to create new products and services or help the organization work more effectively; it also involves the effective execution of the changes involved. IT professionals have long known that technology must work in combination with people and processes to be effective. This is why they are now expected to be experts in change management (Kaminsky 2012). But being able to drive transformation forward involves a number of additional skills, such as political savvy (to overcome resistance and negative influences), organizational problem solving (to address conflicting stakeholder interests), effective use of governance structures (to ensure proper support for change), and governance design (to work with partners and service providers) (Bell and Gerrard 2004; Kim and Maugorgne 2003; Raskino et al. 2013). Because IT people come from a technical background and their thinking is more analytical, they typically do not have strong skills in this area and need to acquire them. • Creating a supportive working environment. Most IT work is done in teams. Increasingly, these teams are virtual and include businesspeople, staff from vendor companies, and members from different cultures. Motivating and inspiring one’s colleagues to do their best, dealing with relationship problems and conflicts, and making decisions that are consistent with the overall goals of the organization and a particular initiative are the job of every IT staff member. Since much leadership in a matrixed organization such as IT is situational, an IT professional could be a leader one day and a follower the next. Thus, that person must know how to create a work environment that is characterized by trust, empowerment, and accountability. This involves clear communication of objectives, setting the rules of engagement, developing strong relationships (sometimes virtually), and providing support to manage risks and resolve issues (Bell and Gerrard 2004; Kaminsky 2012; Light 2013). • Effective use of resources. A good IT leader knows how to concentrate scarce resources in places where they will have the biggest payoff for the organization. This means not only making use of processes and tools to stretch out limited staff but also understanding where resources should not be used (i.e., saying “no”). In the longer term, using resources wisely may mean using job assignments and budgets to enhance people’s capabilities, identifying and developing emergent leaders, and using reward and recognition programs to motivate and encourage staff (Anonymous 2004). Unfortunately, IT staff have often been spread too thinly, underappreciated, and not given time for training. Good IT leaders value their people, run interference for them when necessary, and work to build “bench strength” in their teams and organizations. • Flexibility of approach. A good IT leader knows where and how to exercise leadership. “Skill mastery must be complemented with the ability to know when and where particular behaviors/skills are required and . . . how they should be deployed” (McKeen and Smith 2003). Even though this is true in all parts of the organization, leadership in IT can be a rapidly shifting target for two reasons. First, IT staff are well-educated, well-informed professionals whose opinions are valuable. “Good IT leaders know when to encourage debate and also when to close it down,” said a manager. Second, the business’s rapid shifts of priority, the changing competitive and technical environment, and the highly politicized nature of much IT work mean that leaders must constantly adjust their style to suit a dynamic topography of issues and priorities. “There is a well-documented continuum of leadership styles. . . . The most appropriate style depends on the enterprise style and the business and strategic contexts” (Roberts and Mingay 2004). • Ability to gain business attention. A large component of IT leadership is focused not on the internal IT organization but outward toward all parts of the business. One of the biggest challenges for today’s IT leaders is the fact that the focus of their work is more on business value than on technology (Korsten 2011). The ability to motivate business executives, often in more senior positions, lead business transformation, and gain and maintain executive attention is central to establishing and maintaining IT credibility in an organization (Kaminsky 2012; McDonald and Bace 2004). A good IT leader knows how to position his or her contribution in tangible, business terms; how to interact with business leaders; and how to guide and educate them about the realities of IT use. “Bringing value to the business is a very important trend in IT leadership,” stated one participant. IT leaders will need more or fewer of these qualities, depending on the scope and type of their work. Obviously, IT staff responsible for sourcing will need a different mix of these skills than will those with an internal IT focus or those with a business focus. They will also be more important the higher one moves in the management hierarchy. Nevertheless, these are skills that IT organizations should endeavor to grow in all their staff from the most junior levels. Since these skills take time and practice to develop and are in increasing demand, senior IT managers should put concrete plans in place to ensure that they will be present when needed.

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Although leadership development is widely espoused, many organizations have reduced their budgets in recent years, and that has hit formal training programs hard. One manager remarked that his staff knew senior management was serious about development when it maintained training budgets while trimming in other areas. However, as mentioned earlier, training is only one facet of a good leadership development program, and doing it right will take executive time and consistent attention, in addition to the costs involved in establishing and following through on necessary communications, procedures, and planning. It is essential to articulate the value proposition for this initiative. Experts suggest that several elements of value can be achieved by implementing a leadership development program. Using a rubric established by Smith and McKeen (see Chapter 1), these elements include the following: • What is the value? Because different companies and managers have different perceptions of value, it is critical that the value that is to be achieved by a leadership development program be clearly described and agreed on. Some of the value elements that organizations could achieve with leadership development include improved current and future leadership capabilities and bench strength (preventing expensive and risky hires from outside), improved innovation and alignment with business strategy, improved teamwork (both internally and cross- functionally), improved collaboration and knowledge sharing, greater clarity of purpose and appropriate decision making, reduced risk, and a higher- performing IT organization. When these value objectives are understood, it is possible to develop metrics to determine whether or not the program is successful. Having a focus and metrics for a leadership program will ensure that management pays attention to it and that it doesn’t get shunted into a corner with the “soft and fuzzy stuff” (Kesner 2003). • Who will deliver the value? Because leadership development is partially HR’s responsibility and partially IT’s, clarifying which parts of the program should be delivered by which group is important. Similarly, much of the coaching, mentoring, and experiential components will be fulfilled by different managers within IT. It is, therefore, important for senior management to clarify roles and responsibilities for leadership development and ensure they are implemented consistently across the organization. Ideally, senior IT management will retain responsibility for the outer layer of the leadership program—that is, creating a supportive working environment. At one company the senior IT team created several packaged presentations for middle managers to help them articulate their “leadership promises.” • When will value be realized? Leadership development should have both long- and short-term benefits. Effective training programs should result in visible

behavior changes, as already noted. The initial impacts of a comprehensive leadership initiative should be visible in-house within a year and to business units and vendors within eighteen to twenty-four months (McDonald and Bace 2004). Again, metrics are an essential part of leadership programs because they demonstrate their success and effectiveness. Although there is no causal link between leadership development and improved business results, there should be clear and desirable results achieved (Kesner 2003). Using a “balanced scorecard” approach to track the different types of impacts over time is recommended. This methodology can be used to demonstrate value to IT managers, who may be skeptical, and to HR and senior management. It can also be used to make modifications to the program in areas where it is not working well. • How will value be delivered? This is the question that everyone wants to ask first and that should only be addressed after the other questions have been answered. Once it is clear what IT wants to accomplish with leadership development, it will be much easier to design an effective program to deliver it.

 

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