The Virtuous CIO  

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January 1, 2010 — Advancing Candidate CIOs

We have looked at the types of people who may become future CIOs. By no means have we exhausted the list of candidate types, but we have enough to work with, for our purposes. Cultivating the next generation of IT leadership involves an activity similar to process for hiring new employees: you go through the process looking for reasons to discard candidates. In this case, however, we are not throwing our discards overboard, but rather working to make them satisfied with their highest level of attainment. That will be the subject for a future column.

As you are interacting with your employees, your primary task is to lead them to accomplish great things for you and for your company. This requires all of your leadership and management skills. Some of the employees will rise to prominence due to some significant action of theirs. I have identified future leaders as they sat in my office receiving a well deserved rebuke. Others for accomplishing a signal task others either could not or would not attempt. These people will have a way of capturing your attention. You will watch for clear, definable characteristics, which management textbooks teach are a sure-fire way to develop the next generation. You will also base your actions upon those indefinable gut calls which separate you from the mediocre leaders.

Developing these fledglings may be done formally or informally. The truly great corporations always have a formal plan for identifying and developing leadership. This development revolves around a triad of processes which work together in advancing the new leaders.

Training - If you have the ability to open a book, or think systematically about process and can learn, good for you. Most do better with some kind of formalized instruction. Ideally this should be arranged so the employee can spend time away from the office so the instruction is without interruption. The training regimen may be generalized such as graduate courses, or MBAs.

Those who have the basic business skills may be a better fit to specialized training, such as one of the CIO Boot Camps or something similar. These tailored courses are advertised as being for CIOs, but they usually are well suited to any IT professional who shows a knack for strategic thinking, and is able to keep the mission of her employer in sight as well as the specific goals of IT.

Mentoring – Those of us who have had someone to take us by the hand and lead us past the pitfalls into the arena of the successful strategic IT professional are blessed. The rest of us have the scars and recurring nightmares associated with having to learn it ourselves. Taking the time to guide these up and coming leaders may not benefit us directly, but we will certainly want to hire the results of someone else’s mentoring. Building the next generation of IT leadership is simply part of the job description of every CIO. Not doing it will not necessarily result in a black mark on your corporate annual review. But it will appear in the reviews you give yourself.

Promoting – This term can be taken two ways and is intended so. Part of the development of future leaders is placing them in jobs where they can grow skills and experience. Often they are given the opportunity to work outside of technology and learn other areas of the business. This is a very good thing. It is not a requirement they are familiar with every area within the IT organization, and there are successful CIOs who do not have an IT background. My feeling is that CIOs who have a fundamental understanding of technology will have more self-confidence as well as the confidence of their employees.

Mentoring employees is not something any of us have time to do. But it is one those obligations that goes with leadership and cannot be ignored. This is one of the ways you will build your legacy. If you quit or retire, you may well be forgotten before they get around to painting a new name on your parking space. The people you mentor will always remember you and will credit you for giving them the skills to be successful.