Last month, I wrote about the renewed importance of leadership in information management, specifically targeting the role of the information management (including data warehouse [DW], master data management [MDM], business intelligence [BI], etc.) manager, project manager, director and VP. I have written about the varying levels of BI leadership, from an ROI focus (which is the best) to adherence to a guru approach (which is the worst). Now, I’ll suggest areas where information management leaders can look to build a leadership foundation.

The current temperature of the company must be taken into consideration as you develop or change your leadership style. In today’s economy, quite a few companies are in wait-and-see mode with regard to spending. All companies go in and out of spending philosophies. At points of holding steady or scaling back, initiatives tend to be short-term and geared toward cost reduction and productivity/efficiency improvement activities.

At points of expansion, IT budgets increase, initiatives are less defined and justified, and new ideas are pursued. It is important during these times for information management to present new business ideas. Leadership during times of expansion, especially after periods of nonexpansion, means changing gears. Your career growth is not safe just because the company is doing well. Companies doing well expect their people to do well. For information management, that means bringing innovation to the table. I get concerned when my clients want to keep in the reins and fade into the wallpaper.

Companies do not ebb and flow in unison, and departments could behave counter to the organizational flow. You could spend the morning talking to the upbeat research and development department and the afternoon talking scale-back with the sales team. Being aligned with the internal client, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach, is an important part of demonstrating your tact and thinking.

To further the leadership foundation, it’s important to get intimate with the financial model of the business. How does the business make money? Where are the major areas of spend? What are the leading indicators to the bottom line? The lagging indicators? What are the strategic objectives? How is the business currently tracking to them? What is the competitive outlook?

After gaining a solid understanding of the business, next up is the culture of the organization. What is the decision-making process? Do “decisions” result in actions, or do they eventually get changed over to a decision more favorable to different constituents, etc.? Are relationship bonds solid or flexible? Do they ultimately matter?

Information management leadership and innovation can, and should, support the positive movement of all these metrics or, at the least, track them for the business. I have yet to meet a business strategic objective that is not, or could not be, well supported with effective information management. Interestingly, building and tracking the metrics can provide unique insights into the business that even the major users of the key performance indicators (KPIs) do not attain.

Information management can enable proactivity in a business that is accustomed to being in react mode. Most businesses do not have the information available to make, or auto-make, decisions. Information management should focus on changing that. Long-held yet invalid beliefs that real-time information is impossible are difficult to overcome, but a quick reverse engineering of the organization’s decisions most often shows opportunities lost or capitalized on late.

Today, information management innovation, should it be appropriate, means exploring and deciding on a few things while incorporating the leadership foundation. Consider your strategy to support the business around these possible initiatives: metadata management, MDM, operational BI, analytics, customer lifetime value, Web services, vendor megaconsolidation and information security.

Be careful to screen out the nonstarters that are based on vendor euphoria but otherwise lacking. If you don’t have the strategies, someone else, although perhaps less informed, may. And you won’t like carrying out that strategy. If you’re scooped on an item that is squarely in your domain, you will start to be labeled a “lights-on” manager at best.

Beyond the foundation and the vision, leadership is ultimately about delivering. What you’ve done in the past may buy you some minutes of uninterrupted dialogue. After that, you get more dialogue based on what you’re saying - and ultimately, delivering.

Many in information management hunker down in the technology and fail to develop their vision and their relationships. These are both necessary to achieve the leadership required for success today. When you know you need to do something to meet your goals, start doing it. It may be uncomfortable at first, but the key is making it a habit. Then, it’s easier, if not easy.

Either end of the spectrum, from cost reduction to megaexpansion, provides opportunity for leadership, and I believe it is imperative that a leader in any environment be able to succeed in all phases a company may go through, especially because the uncontrollable economy will do some dictating sooner or later. Regardless, a leader must focus on the business first, not the technology.

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