Why IT needs strong leaders

Dispatch from Pearlz Cybercafe, Fredericksburg, Texas -- Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, the man credited with winning the Pacific Theater for the United States during World War II, was born in this dusty town and, according to the local museum, was nothing if not a great leader. He wasn't an in-your-face Patton or a MacArthur type -- and judging from the results, he didn't need to be.

Does IT need more leaders like Nimitz these days? Desperately, says a recent --McKinsey Quarterly report. "Something's gone very wrong" with the structures that govern how businesses make IT decisions, claims the report, entitled "What IT Leaders Do." Authors Eric Monnoyer and Paul Willmott say that governance alone is for the birds, something a wartime Nimitz would have understood.

"IT governance systems have become a substitute for real leadership," claims the report, with companies relying on tightly scripted meetings, analyses, and decision frameworks to unite CIOs and business executives. But these are "poor stand-ins," the report says, for human leaders who can forge partnerships, drive the right conversations, and make tough trade-offs.

Companies should hire IT execs creatively, the report counsels, even considering CFOs or COOs to lead IT. And they should give the CIO not just resources but a mandate within the company to get things done -- and perhaps even a veto over projects that aren't compatible with the company's IT architecture.

IT is rarely a life-or-death matter. But we shouldn't forget that success comes from human leadership and teamwork, not flowcharts and standing committees.

Workplace productivity report: Now, about Pearlz Cybercafe. This excellent establishment features lots of old cowboy and computer memorabilia, plus free sodas. Be forewarned, though, that most of the clientele spends its time accessing -- and commenting on -- Yahoo Personals ("Too old," "She's a cutie!," and so on). Google the words "office distraction" and you'll find a Wall Street Journal article that cites a study by Bosti Associates: At one large law firm, cube dwellers were interrupted an average of 21 times a day, requiring three minutes recovery time for each intrusion, or more than an hour a day to refocus. Now ... where was I?

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