War on horizon as talented leaders near retirement age

A war for leadership talent is likely in the next five years as demographics change and Australia's workforce continues to age, consultants predict.

With experienced IT professionals hatching retirement plans in the next few years, CompAssess Business Psychologists consultant Emily Novatsis says there will be a leadership gap with demand much greater than supply.

For example, the number of employees in the 60 to 64 year age bracket will jump 27.4 percent by 2011.

"There will be a serious shortage of experienced leaders so the challenge is to grow talent today and that means making the right hiring decisions," she said.

"Research has shown that 32 percent of managers would not re-hire the same person if they had a second chance; basically one in three hiring decisions is wrong which is a huge cost burden for companies."

Capgemini technology services vice president Brad Freeman agreed there will be a leadership shortage and predicts companies will be buying experience in the future.

He said IT organizations are larger and more complex than they have ever been and try to avoid risky options.

"Older CIOs are more attractive because [companies] want their organization in safe hands; but retaining IT staff can be tough as the new generation is very different," Freeman said.

"In the past you simply became a programmer and then moved up the ladder; but there have been two generations since then and they have a radically different view of their career path."

For example, Freeman said the younger generation is not motivated by the carrot of becoming a vice president or CIO. "They don't necessarily aspire to the role of CIO and graduates don't think 20 years down the track; they are motivated by the immediate challenge of the job; they want to be tested."

The career rush of the 1990s is certainly over and a CW Quickpoll published last week certainly supports Freeman's comment. Readers were asked if IT managers naturally aspire to the role of CIO and more than 50 percent of respondents said "no".

Freeman said the new generation wants to stay technical a lot longer and maintain hands-on positions.

The ability to work well in a team is an important part of being an IT leader with research from the University of California showing that 85 percent of the high-value work of IT is conducted by teams.

IT executives break the mould

Business psychologists have finally confirmed what we already knew: IT managers are different to other company executives which means they should be managed and measured differently.

Actively involved in a broad range of hiring assessments from behavioural interviews and personality questionnaires, CompAssess Business Psychologists consultant Emily Novatsis said the competency of an IT pro is different to other executives within an organization so the selection process isn't the same.

IT pros, she said, don't fit the standard executive mould but admitted this profile is changing.

"When we assess IT hires we look at a totally different competency; a technically-orientated person is a different kind of employee," Novatsis said.

"The qualities they typically possess include the ability to work well independently, a rational approach to problems, they are generally clear about their preferences and quick to identify them and democratic in a team environment.

"But because the techie has traditionally provided practical solutions to problems, they are not always good at working in a collaborative environment."

So what distinguishes an exceptional IT pro? Novatsis says it is the ability to lead, coach and mentor others as well as business acumen, strategic thinking and of course, vision.

"Organizations don't just want technical ability they want someone who can differentiate by building partnerships and influencing other executives; talent management research has proven that a good leader can indirectly contribute to the bottom line and increase returns for shareholders."

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