Leadership is now at risk

The rapid evolution of IT requires effective leadership and a critical mass of leaders within the IT organisation. To keep pace, CIOs should evaluate both themselves and their direct reports on their combined capabilities. Leadership by example — “walking the talk”, re-engineering, directed change management, and succession pooling — requires an increase in the number of corporate leaders. Without more leaders, organisations run the risk of becoming uncompetitive and uninspiring.

Leading companies are not satisfied with ad hoc leadership replacement, instead they require ongoing competitive advantages from leaders who can continue to build where their predecessors left off. Rather than depending on a headhunter to find and create the right executive team, companies must engage in leadership development. In Meta Group’s experience with the Global 2000, we found that effective leadership provides one of the best ways of enhancing employee productivity.

Knowledgeable companies mitigate specific personnel risks by developing leadership succession pools. To ensure successful IT execution and avoid unnecessary risk, CIOs adopt a risk management process that focuses on the following:

Personalisation — Although many companies have mission, vision, and value statements, few organisations examine how senior managers internalise these concepts. When leaders do not internalise futures, they do not take the necessary steps to ensure success. World-class organisations measure for leaders that internalise their futures (development plans and performance appraisals), map out the risks of losing specific leaders (scenario and contingency plans), and manage cultural risks. In addition, they assess whether senior managers are innovating within their performance objectives and collaborating with others. Senior management collaboration is a predictive indicator of whether the next generation of executives can successfully work together.

Character Development — Few companies define upfront the core characteristics of their leaders, and fewer still measure the development rates of potential leaders. In addition to passion, courage, and intellect, Meta Group believes the following seven talents must exist in top-notch leaders:

Researching: the ability to quickly gather, analyse, and reconcile information from a broad variety of sources to synthesise method or models that solve (various) problems in a creative or innovative manner.

Interviewing: the ability to formulate and execute conversational questions to elicit individual facts or statements, combined with a willingness to listen to what the individual has to say (such as the Socratic or Rogerian methods).

Engineering: the ability to apply principles of logic, science, and mathematics to the understanding of systems and processes to improve them. IT mastery of project, application, database or life-cycle management are acceptable substitutes for formal engineering disciplines.

Lecturing: in delivering to an audience (medium or large), the ability to cogently expound on important subjects to inform, instruct, convince, or persuade listeners to further action or understanding.

Arbitrating: in concert with common objectives, the ability to reconcile the differences in futures, processes, policies, infrastructures, plans, architectures, and activities.

Coaching: the ability and willingness to transfer knowledge to individuals, teams, managers, or leaders, enabling them to succeed at a given task, and (if necessary) identify their weaknesses and aid them in correcting those weaknesses.

Organising: the ability to put things together to attain an orderly, functioning, and structured whole (Occam’s Razor, for instance).

Because day-to-day operations can prejudice many executives favourably towards their lieutenants, leading companies use third-party evaluations of developing leaders. CIOs typically do not have the time or breadth of experience to train successors, and therefore engage third parties to develop executive lieutenants.

Perception — In the same manner that IT success is dependent on capability and business perception, leadership is dependent on a leader’s abilities and employees’ perceptions.

Leading companies require (external) customer, peer, and employee evaluations of future leaders (such as 360-degree reviews). Strong employee ratings are excellent predictors of work environment stability. CIOs must work with HR departments to train evaluators to provide meaningful feedback, because most have tendencies to be amiable rather than provide insight into how the leader should improve.

When CIOs mobilise their lieutenants and leaders towards fulfilling ambitious goals, they increase IT performance and business alignment. Increased performance is not doing more with less. Promoting good performers without extensive preparation, mentoring and monitoring results in the Peter Principle, where managers are promoted to their level of incompetence.

Dr Kevin McIsaac is research director, Asia-Pacific, Meta Group

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