We're nearing the middle of the calendar year, and it's as great a time as any to reflect on how you are progressing as an IT worker, whether you're the CIO or a few months out of school and still finding your feet as a junior analyst. Mid-year is away from the major holidays and pressure of formal New Year's Resolutions, and the turn from winter into spring and summer presents a great time to put some thought into how you're developing as a leader. If you're wondering where to start, try the following:
Learn something about your business
The best way to learn about the business that you're a part of is to spend a few hours to a couple of days outside the confines of IT. This could take the guise of anything from an informal tour of a plant or production facility, to a few hours fielding customer service calls, to a "ride along" with field personnel.
A day away from your "real job" is often reward enough, but these activities will give you a newfound understanding and respect of the people, customers, and processes that are impacted and maintained by IT. The analyst working on the new CRM application will have a deeper understanding of the requirements after spending a day working the phones in the call center, just as the CIO will be reinvigorated and more deeply grounded in his or her business after a day jockeying a cash register and looking customers in the eye.
Learn a new technology
We tend to grow attached to the tools we use on a daily basis, and view all of our problems through the context of the tools in our toolbox. Even as you move up into the management chain, you might legitimately tend to look beyond technology at the underlying process behind a problem, blissfully ignorant of new tools that could streamline or accelerate change. At least once each year, step outside your technical comfort zone and spend an afternoon learning about a new technology, even if it's been years since you've written a line of code or even plugged in a network cable.
I like to think I keep a reasonably close pulse on technology, but I was blissfully unaware of some of the amazing innovations in database and web development coming from the open source arena, tools that could benefit my clients and change my thinking on the cost and commitment required to deliver certain projects. Just as a day on the shop floor can open your eyes to your business, a day or two spent with an expert or enthusiast, or even an afternoon's research, can dramatically shift your thinking.
Get your "two things"
Those who work with and for you are often keen observers of your flaws and weaknesses. While it might be uncomfortable, informally and personally ask a couple of peers, superiors, and people you manage for two things you could improve upon. Ask personally and informally, and with any luck you'll hear a consistent theme or two emerge that you can then focus on improving or mitigating.
Remember that the people you solicit are doing you a favor: helping you improve. Even if you disagree with their assessment or feel it's blatantly incorrect or unfair, thank them for their feedback and move on. Act on the comments that you hear repeatedly and that you're in the best position to fix. For example, I may hear that I'm a horrible basketball player, but even a concerted effort is unlikely to generate much improvement, so that might be feedback I'd focus on later. In essence, hit the low-hanging fruit first.
No one enjoys complex self-improvement plans or convoluted processes, and I hope I've offered three simple actions that can reinvigorate and excite you as an IT leader, whether you're in the twilight of a long and successful career or just hitting your stride. In any case, take responsibility for your development as a leader, as it's unlikely anyone will put as much care and focus into your development as you!
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.