In the Minds of Next-Gen IT Leaders

I recently attempted to identify the skills that next-generation IT leaders think they are going to need in order to be successful when their turn comes to run IT.

I compiled information from four sources: the IT Leadership Academy, which has a database of 1,500 CIOs; the Berkeley CIO Institute, whose current class consists of 50 of the top next-generation IT leaders in the country; the 56 soon-to-be MBAs at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business; and the 1,200 graduates of UCLA's Managing the Information Resource Program. Thirteen arrows for the career quiver of the future emerged. Tomorrow's IT leaders must:

  • Know minds and how to change them.
  • Be able to grow the next generation of IT leaders.
  • Innovate and create new products and services.
  • Responsibly manage customer information.
  • Manage technology linearities.
  • Implement cost accounting.
  • Be globally aware.
  • Be adept at storytelling.
  • Enable collaboration across the enterprise.
  • Deliver tools that enable foresight and insight.
  • Understand what's needed for regulatory compliance.
  • Have a grasp of packaging and sourcing work.
  • Be fully cognizant of information security.

Regulatory compliance, packaging/sourcing work and information security weren't real surprises. These topics have been covered in articles and conferences to the point of nauseating excess. The remaining 10 skills reveal a great deal about the insight of the people who will be at the helm of technology in the next five to 10 years.

I was initially surprised to find "Be able to grow the next generation of IT leaders" close to the top of the list. But next-generation leaders are fed up with having to work from ignorance and make do with the skills at hand. Having come of age in a period when money for professional development was very limited, this generation has a history of acquiring skills on the cheap. Its members take their lessons where they find them and excel at extracting leadership nuggets from their environment. Current leaders should be aware that their actions are being scrutinized.

The next generation is unusually sensitized to the importance of mental models (how people think) and the process of changing how people think. One of the questions most frequently posed to high-performance CIOs is, "How did you convince Executive X to support Action Y?"

Next-generation IT leaders are totally in sync with senior management's desire to improve the top line by creating IT-enabled products and services.

Led by academics like Rashi Glazer of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, next-generation IT leaders recognize that the customer -- and, more specifically, information about the customer -- is a company's most important asset. Since the inappropriate management of customer information is in the news nearly every day, they see a need for significant improvements and investments in this area.

Next-generation leaders are knowledgeable about the criticality of correctly timing technology entrances and exits. The cost microscope they grew up under makes them aware of the need for fiscal transparency, and low-cost broadband has connected them to global markets and competitors for their jobs. The next generation is very aware of global competition.

And the truly insightful in the next generation are putting down their BlackBerry devices, pagers and cell phones and spending time fine-tuning their ability to tell compelling stories.

Having spent time with the next-generation IT leaders, I think the future is going to be bright indeed.

Thornton A. May is a longtime industry observer, management consultant and commentator. Contact him at

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