Leadership

Developing tech leadership from within

As companies downsize, developing strong technology leadership is more critical than ever. Columnist Bob Weinstein talks to a CEO who's written a new book on leadership and finds out how companies can build future IT leaders from within the company ranks.

One of the latest additions to the ever-growing leadership book list is Grow Your Own Leaders: How to Identify, Develop, and Retain Leadership Talent (Financial Times Prentice Hall; $23.20) by William C. Byham, Dr. Matthew Paese, and Dr. Audrey Smith. Byham is the CEO and founder of Development Dimensions International, a Pittsburgh-based human resources consulting firm specializing in leadership development.

Given that there’s such a plethora of resources on leadership topics, I thought it’d be valuable to talk with Byham about his new book and how CIOs and tech leaders specifically can apply his approach and current leadership trends to their workday. In this interview, Byham explores why it's often best to develop leaders from within the company, what’s thwarting strong technology leaders from emerging, and why the dot-com era didn’t produce many tech leaders.

Building leaders from within
TechRepublic: What makes your book different from all the other books on leadership?
Byham: Organizations have always had to build leaders. Now, however, business faces a scarcity of leaders because baby boomers are nearing the end of their careers. In most organizations, about 50 percent of managers will be retiring. Most companies don’t have enough experienced people who are qualified to be leaders. So, they’re faced with a dilemma: Do they go outside, or develop them from their own ranks? I recommend that they try to develop leaders from within their own ranks. It’s cheaper, and statistics prove that only 50 percent of outside hires work out. Those are pretty risky odds. Still, it pays to invest the time and effort to develop leaders within your own ranks. Companies have yet to recognize that fact of life. Once they do, they must take the time and effort to find and develop them. It must be a purposeful effort.

TechRepublic: Do most companies have a problem developing leaders?
Byham: Yes. What with mergers and acquisitions, managerial jobs have become complicated. It’s particularly complex in IT companies. IT managers, for example, not only have to manage people under them, but they also have to work closely with vendors, suppliers, contractors, consultants, and companies to which they outsource functions. Complicating the situation, organizations have become much leaner than in the past. Having fewer middle managers means the average manager has a lot more responsibility. Put it all together, and leadership skills are more important than ever.

TechRepublic: Why is it particularly important for CIOs to develop leaders?
Byham: They must have good leaders if they hope to get things done. Virtually all managers’ jobs are complicated, but CIOs have more on their plate because they work with so many different parts of the organization. They answer to the CEO, which means having responsibilities most other senior managers don’t have to handle. When CIOs develop leaders, they’re also building loyalty at the same time, which is priceless in organizations in which politics are unavoidable.

TechRepublic: In your book, you warn against building a strategy of earmarking specific people as backup leaders for specific jobs. Could you explain that?
Byham: Rather than falling back on archaic replacement planning and “climb the ladder” approaches, it’s much more effective to identify and develop a group of people, which I call an "Acceleration Pool." This is a group of employees who have the potential to fill multiple senior management positions. In traditional leadership-development efforts, participants complete individual development plans and outline the strengths to build on and the weaknesses to overcome. But less than 10 percent of people actually follow through and take the intended development actions. And fewer yet actually change their behaviors.

Defining management qualities
TechRepublic: What is the biggest mistake companies make in developing leaders?
Byham: The biggest mistake is not actually addressing the subject. It starts when you do not specify what skills you need. They have to start off with a clear view of what the leader of the future will look like. It means clearly defining that person depending upon the strategy of the organization.

TechRepublic: What characteristics should this potential leader have?
Byham: A leader should have four attributes: experience with organizational changes; the ability to introduce new technologies or new strategies; organizational and technical knowledge, such as understanding budgeting systems or products or services; and behaviors needed for managing others, such as delegation, planning, and leadership skills.

The many definitions of leadership
Below are some well-known pundits' definitions of leadership, but we'd like to get TechRepublic members' views as well. Write to us and tell us how you define leadership and give us examples of what a good leader does.
“Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential."—Warren Bennis
“Leadership is a process of persuasion and example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to take action that is in accord with the leader's purpose, or the shared purposes of all."—John W. Gardner
“Leadership is the ability to take initiative and have influence. In the generic sense, it means ‘leading with the self.’ Effective leadership embodies and balances the life skills of joining, differentiating and learning with integrity.”—Leadership Institute of Seattle


Leadership development pitfalls
TechRepublic: What went wrong with Enron’s management? Wouldn’t you agree they had a serious management glitch?
Byham: I certainly would. Enron had poor leadership from the top that allowed a culture of cheating to develop. Since the Enron scandal, companies are more interested in integrity, rather than forming cultures hell-bent on making the numbers.

TechRepublic: What kind of leadership mistakes did the dot-com companies make?
Byham: They never had a chance to develop leaders. They knew nothing about succession planning. It was just spend and hire, and little effort went into carefully hiring great people and developing quality management and leadership.

TechRepublic: You question leadership development programs. What’s wrong with them?
Byham: The problem is not the programs themselves, but what typically follows them. Ironically, companies pay for the programs but don’t support them. The idea is to implement what’s learned in the program. But, if the organization isn’t supportive, time and money are wasted.
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