This month I continue my thoughts on leadership. My premise is that there is a lot of value left on the table in corporate information technology today. That value comes in the form of useful yet underutilized new areas of technology, infrastructure well past the “born-on” date and finally a lack of integration among projects, staff and data. Information professionals will keep chipping away at these opportunities, but the prime mover for real improvement could come from leadership. I have been able to examine and contribute to the core of many leading IT organizations over the years. Whether overtly recognized as such or not, leadership is the highest factor correlated to success, and the lack thereof is correlated to failure.

I was fortunate enough to study under and serve on a board for Barry Posner, co-author with James Kouzes of The Leadership Challenge and Credibility. Posner and Kouzes use the Vance Packard definition of leadership: the art of getting others to want to do something that you are convinced should be done. Leadership is the ability to impress, guide and challenge people toward common goals. I’ve had the training, but, like most people, I have experienced leadership gains only from on-the-job training (OJT). I strive to make progress every day and hope this column is an inspiration for you in your leadership growth.

Be Positive

If you’re at work seven to 12 hours per day, you might as well try to be positive about it. I’m sure we’ve all felt the effects of a bad day at work. Sometimes I scratch my head at the ends of those days and wonder what made them bad. It isn’t always obvious, but it can turn out to be the effects of a person with a bad attitude.

Sometimes the best thing an IT leader can do is bring a positive attitude to the workplace. It may be the most levergable way to realize Packard’s definition of leadership. Enthusiasm is another way to promote a positive attitude. Optimism, somewhere short of blind optimism, is another route.

It is important to remember that good things - such as a challenge, a positive attitude and an outcome responsibility - can flow downstream. I’ve worked with a number of micromanagers and they are typically the ones working until 8:00 in the evening. While leaders have to keep watch and guide, those who extend freedoms and develop teams usually experience the best results. Freedom is highly valued, and goes hand-in-hand with trust. Freedom also allows for creativity, which is sorely needed in providing IT solutions today.

Generate a Vision and Motivate

On a more strategic level, vision must also flow downstream from leaders. Vision is not for delegating, however. Those within your span of control should share your vision. It is critical to devote the time required to generate this vision, which is a representation of the desired future state.

Motivation should accompany the effort to get to the desired future state. This motivation helps cut through the excuses and encourages the organization. Winston Churchill’s speech to Great Britain as it entered World War II or Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech on the plaza come to mind as the epitome of motivational calls. While we’re not dealing with anything that dramatic or important, appropriate levels of true motivation are not found often enough in IT.

If you’re motivating to support your vision, complimenting should not be too far behind. I’ve spoken to many IT professionals doing stellar work in my opinion, but they haven’t a clue what their superiors in the organization think about the work. Complimenting is a skill, and perhaps the biggest aspect of the skill is to do it without sounding condescending.

Set Goals

One way to compliment is to set goals for the team that represent the actionable breakdown of the vision into daily and weekly goals. Goal setting is getting a bad rap lately, but it is one of the most important things that IT leaders need to do. I believe information management is more art than science, and IT goals can be set at appropriate levels to allow for the necessary creativity.

If goals, or more tactical measures, are missed, it’s important for the leader to “fall on the sword.” Many fear this because confessions of subperfect work can end up on the employment record as subpar work. When dealing with this situation, it is important to consider who you are trying to impress - those who play the blame game or those who understand a good leader when they see one.

Even with a positive attitude, delegation, vision, motivation and goals in place, information management leadership is still an ongoing process. Once the data warehouse seems to be on a good path, along comes a source system swap out, necessitating multiple months of tedious, detailed field-by-field comparison work. Or once the reports are built, the business unit no longer needs them, but they state their need for some others in much the same way as the last time. The CIO is fired. Production capacity is reached. Data stewardship gets mired in politics. View these situations as opportunities and face the information management ride with a good helping of positive attitude, delegation, vision, motivation and goals.

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