There are a whole lot of ridiculous management books out there with catchy titles and drab content that passes as advice. I've read a few of these books... or at least started them. On the other hand, I've also read some really good management theory books, such as Jim Collins' Good to Great and Built to Last. While these books are general in that they focus on what it takes to build and maintain an overall company, individuals can still learn about how their efforts and actions can be directed to the greater good of the organization.
As is the case with building a company, it's important to consider how to build and maintain your IT management career. Personally, I believe that all IT leaders need to be self-aware; that is, IT leaders need to have the capacity for introspection and reflection of one's skills, actions and style. Moreover, this capability for self-reflection needs to be an ongoing process. The world of technology and the demands placed on technology leaders make the rate of change particularly demanding on the people that occupy these roles.
I recently read a book that is an easy read and, looking back, contains really obvious information that everyone should know. However, it's not always that easy. As I mentioned, IT leaders undergo and often lead constant change and sometimes get pulled deeply "into the weeds" in an effort to get things done. Even those that can remain fully strategic do so while operating within their personally established confines, so reading about how others have tackled particular challenges is eye-opening.
Although I generally avoid reading books with the word "secrets" in the title, after I finished reading the 149-page=long The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders, I felt like I had gained a better handle on a roadmap to success in my own career. The book's author, Marc J. Schiller, identifies the ability to influence others as a key trait necessary for success as an IT leader. In that, I absolutely agree. IT leaders live and die by their ability to listen to others, develop solutions and ultimately drive solutions to completion. Obviously, this should not be an adversarial exercise, but in the real world, there is often conflict based on difference of opinion, differing personalities and organizational power structures.
In his book, Schiller identifies key components and traits that help IT leaders gain and retain the credibility necessary to perform as influential leaders in the organization. While I'm not going to go over each of the eleven "secrets" I will share the first two.
Infrastructure really matters
I've seen some IT leaders disregard infrastructure as "too tactical" and pushed off to an underling with little to no focus from the CIO. Schiller rejects this course of action; after all, the business runs on the infrastructure. If the infrastructure is suffering because it's seen as too tactical, the IT leader will ultimately suffer because of an inability to handle the basics.
Again, this makes a ton of sense and really is common sense, but it's but the first step on a journey laid out very well in the book.
Expect projects to fail
The second secret discusses the next great issue facing many IT leaders - project failure. Schiller argues that the senior IT leader needs to expertly manage expectations as well as budget and remove himself from the day-to-day managing of individual projects in order to be able to be considered an authentic neutral bystander capable of dispassionately leading the overall portfolio.
I have faced this exact situation in my own professional life. I became too closely associated with a couple of projects and it became difficult to be seen as credible when it came time to present the project. In hindsight, I should have left the day to day to other people and asked for regular status reports instead.
That was a lesson that I learned by looking back and reflecting on the project at hand. It wasn't a career-killer, but was an eye opener.
Schiller's book was, for me, the best book I've read in an effort to help me ground myself. I don't like books that are thousands of pages long with a bunch of mumbo jumbo. In Schiller's book, I found accessible language, actionable content and a style that allowed to easily mix my own background and experience while reading through the author's stories. Hopefully, as I move forward in my career, I will be able to apply these lessons learned to the benefit of both myself and my organization.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.