Leadership

Video: Five beliefs that can take down an IT leader

There have been many IT departments that could have been tremendously successful if it weren't for the faulty beliefs of their leaders. This episode of Sanity Savers for IT executives puts the spotlight on five ways of thinking that can cripple your IT operation and damage your career.

There have been many IT departments that could have been tremendously successful if it weren't for the faulty beliefs of their leaders. This episode of Sanity Savers for IT executives puts the spotlight on five ways of thinking that can cripple your IT operation and damage your career.

For those of you who prefer text over video, you can click the "Transcript" link underneath the video or you can read the original article from Ilya Bogorad that this episode was based on: Five ways of thinking that can fell IT leaders.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

29 comments
stevesm
stevesm

IT Leaders get it a tough spot when non-IT admin holds many of the beliefs. As the IT leader, I spend alot of my efforts balancing the two worlds. Our IT staff wants to innovate (and our customers want us to) but admin keeps the lid on especially funding. We have to get creative to do enough innovation while "walking before we run". Make life interesting walking that tight rope!!!

Solsau
Solsau

I think we can add another belief to the list, and it's the belief some IT Leaders have about not telling the truth of what is going on to the user areas. As we all know, the truth finally is known somehow and IT Leaders loose credibility. Solange Saunier (sol.saunier@gmail.com).

dbecker
dbecker

In theory, Governmental IT is fairly static when it comes to the bread and butter stuff. While there can be quite a bit of innovation for new technologies [for example, putting Permits online], there is a limit to that because, well, most of the basics have not changed for 150 years -- roads are still built and patched, permits are still issued [to make certain people don't die from collapsed buildings at a minimum] and water and sewers are still provided. What is new to local government over the past two decades is GIS, to mention one thing -- and often, Google maps and Google earth tap into that. But while most departments have already put almost everything on line, from permits to assessments, there are often significant financial benefits to be gained from synergy. For example, GIS has been called upon to make a comparison between five years ago and today. Surprise, surprise, new buildings have sprung up, many of which don't seem to have had permits and inspections. Millions of dollars are involved -- an important finding when budget dollars are constrained. So IT leadership can really make a difference to a business or agency during hard times and can be worth every penney and billions more if uninspired bean counters don't catch the vision that it is necessary to maintain what you have in IT and even grow and expand IT for the future when things get better. Now there is one disaster lurking for IT within the belief system of an IT leader. It is the idea that being moral, ethical and legal are irrelevant and they can get away with being sleazy. Dishonest, lying, thieving scoundrel scumbags can take down IT and ruin it for decades to come -- and in a not very long timeframe either.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

The nature of CXX abhors long-term thinking when all they care about is short-term results. This is true when it comes to outsourcing or hiring. Why would a company low-ball new hires or cut the salary of current staff in tough times just to save a few bucks? We all know that once things improve, your star players will jump ship. But what does a CXX care? He won't be there when things improve anyways. Let the other guy worry about that. The worst thing I've ever heard from a CXX is, "Well hopefully I'll be retired before that happens..."

mmmmpsi
mmmmpsi

This is an excellent article and definitely hits home.. Well done thank you!

infeeltrat
infeeltrat

Jason, Ironically, many IT leaders are taught these beliefs and resulting behaviors by the business leaders. IT leaders that can't see or articulate the need for structured delivery of their services to their business leaders are also at risk. In many cases, projects that get approved are typically those that result from some reaction from the business leaders to a (typically self-imposed or systemic) crisis, whcih begets the constant fire-fighting mode and the vortex begins.

VAbonat
VAbonat

Bravo Jason! You focus and explain this so important level of our job very clear, simple and truly. It's a pity that many IT leaders don't even suspect they are thinking this way. Very good theme and statement!

bill.bennett
bill.bennett

I found this Video to be absolutely 100% correct. We had an IT leader who had every one of the five beliefs as mentioned in this video. Thankfully, he has now departed and we now have a new leader with a very forward thinking attitude and none of the five beliefs as mentioned.

joe.justice
joe.justice

Thanks, "Wall Street." Okay, a little bit of greed can spur competitive thinking. But when it is the driving factor in all business decisions, then business suffers the events described above. It's cynical and disheartening to think about it. But it seems much of business has taken this approach. When you think of all the successful "failures" out there, it is counter-intuitive. When a CEO retires with a multimillion dollar golden parachute after leading his company into the depths of red ink, why do we still think greed is a way of doing business? We all want what he/she got. But it seems only a few "better bred" folk get the plum, regardless of their performance. In a world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, I can't see much hope of changing the archaic and myopic way of thinking. Grab it before it's gone, folks.

dbwriter
dbwriter

I absolutely understand and agree with the video. I am not a manager. I have more than two brain cells. I didn't fit in because I did not adhere to the corporate vision. Therefore, the managers are there and I am not.

brian
brian

You talk about tightening bolts or defining which bolts to tighten, IT needs to communicate and direct those activities. Internally: When was the last time it was mentioned (in person) to the IT staff which projects are the top FIVE for the company? Are they behind? Should others in the department give a bit more focus/priority/assistance in making certain ones reach the goals? Externally: IT leaders help set the expectations of support levels in an IT organization. Do you expect that IT will come to someone's desk to change batteries on a wireless mouse? Just for Execs and the techno-oblivious? What are the policies which people are not following? Are there any changes which IT plans to implement which will impact any specific department? Steamrolling Vista into the workplace without explaining why this is a good thing could make it resume-printing time.... Up to Executives: IT leaders need to be there to LISTEN AND SPEAK about the business strategies and events. So, there's a big sales event somewhere on a certain date, showing off our stuff - tell execs you'll have IT staff available to assist perhaps? Then, the flip side, let IT staff *plan* to support this event, by avoiding server reboots, website outages, network outages and the like, as well as get a volunteer to go to the event to play "junior SE" - and let them get a feel for how the Sales group is coping with their environment and build relationships with other departments. An aside: I would rather lose an internal IT staff to my Sales Department as an SE and bring in another of my choosing, than have the Sales people choose their own Technical staff, who won't be aware of policies and procedures, as well as the processes of getting things purchased and safely installed inside the company networks (or at least know who to ask for help.)

hauskins
hauskins

I am in an environment where we have managers in IT that can't understand even basic concepts about computer technology. It sometimes take longer to try and explain than to get the task done. Ignorance is a large roadblock to progress.

sml
sml

I would add a 6th . . . keeping people around who do not peform well just to keep the headcount. or whatever the reason. a resource who is not in sync with the IT Dept. direction can distract and hinder forward progress.

PunkRock_PM
PunkRock_PM

In my 15 years in IT, I've seen spectacular examples of poor and adequate management. I've come to the conclusion that human nature gets the better of most people and they look for new and more clever ways to avoid responsibility and abdicate ownership. It's easy for IT to say the situation is the fault of the business for never specifying better requirements in time. It's just as easy for the business to blame IT for not proactively jumping in to stop a problem before it happened, or to rescue fast enough. If everybody in the organization can put their big-kid pants on, step up and take the professional responsibility of their job seriously, stop looking for ways out, and focus on the actual work, I believe a lot could improve. But maybe I'm naive still after all these years.

Triathlete1981
Triathlete1981

#1. Yes, and people wind up not wanting to work with their IT dept if the IT dept believes other people in the company should be the tech experts. #2. Every organization claims it is "fast-paced" even if it's not. Who wants to claim that they're slow-paced? And it's been used so much that it now carries no meaning. #3. In some cases, the company actually is under-resourced. When we got rid of our second IT pro at my place, it left only me. Now it's too much work for one person and not enough for two full-time. Generally speaking though, most departments consider themselves under-resourced, and again, like #2, it's lost some of its meaning. #4. I have this issue now where for the past 2 years, we've been in penny-pinching mode. If it cost money, we didn't do it. And now so many problems are happening, I have to tell my boss everything costs and I simply lost the desire to innovate b/c of it. #5. In a down economy, penny-pinching is the wrong answer. The correct answer is innovation and ways to increase our current value and maximize/optimize current IT investments. Good post.

blotto5
blotto5

IT managers who are stuck in thier ways can be disasterous to IT departments and thier companies. they dont innovate and by effect the technology being used and maintaned becomes stale because it is believed to be "good enough" and it is seen to be too much work or too expensive to impliment new technologies or ideas. I think that could fall under 3 4 or 5 really.

hauskins
hauskins

I am a manager and have more than two brain cells. I am also a hands technical leader. I manage a group of techies and participate in processes that form the vision for our overall IT vision. In my thinking it is crucial that a manager have some level of IT expertise beyond using email and making excel spreadsheets. For myself, I manage a number of UNIX servers, do advance desktop support and innovate in the sense of bring new services online.

dbecker
dbecker

And you have to know that anyone who gets themselves on the "favorite player" list as some sort of entitlement more than likely is less than honest and has an agenda. More frequently than not, the agenda is to supplant the one in charge playing the favorites. Be mindful of the play / movie, "How to Succeed in Business without even Trying".

dbecker
dbecker

Any IT manager who believes that he or she must acceed and compromise absolutely everything to other IT managers -- to the point of even giving up important maintenance dollars for "the good of the whole" [like pet projects which have absolutely no ROI], thus gutting their own division -- is going to absolutely ruin not only his or her own people, but do extensive damage to the entire organization. It isn't just avoiding responsibility and abdication of ownership, it's the passive aggressive avoidance of any sort of confrontation, leading to compromise at every turn and every level. The best thing for such management is to learn how to lie effectively, which, I would point out, has never been a successful strategy for success in the long term. Having guts to stand up for what you know is right is about as necessary as anything else for success: Wimps and wusses need not apply.

cbellur
cbellur

Innovation and updating technology are great, but sometimes people go overboard. We were forced by corporate to migrate to a different app server. Our application is huge, so it took about a year to do the migration (they wanted a new release and new features too) and we had tons of production issues for about 9 months after the migration (we did all the stress testing and everything -- it didn't help). Ever since then, managers have been pointing fingers at how expensive we are and we have only had one release. I keep telling them it's the migraton that cost us so much time and money, but they just think it is a lame excuse. It doesn't seem to jive with their business-buzz-word view of the world. Ah, you know, who needs the truth anyway... Let's just scapegoat engineering. So after this debacle, they tell every manager we have hired that we are a poorly performing team, and their job is to fix us. Needless to say, this hasn't worked well. Just the annoying generic management things like "we need to push". When you tell that to a team that has been working hard (except for a few bad apples) and has been beaten up by management, people start to leave. If it wasn't for the economy, the whole team would be gone. We got absolutely no value out of moving from Brand X of app server to Brand Y. In fact, I think it is an inferior app server and you can get a better one for free. These decisions are made between the sales people and high level (CIO) managers. We were promised all of this support from the company if we switched, and we have yet to see any. This is something that tends to happen at huge companies. It makes me want to get back into working at a start-up (as soon as the economy recovers). I work just as hard as if I was at a startup (the business unit I work for was a startup that was aquired), but we don't see results. It's not our fault -- we have to jump through so many hoops that take up our time and don't produce any results. It seems there is a whole class of architects and security experts that want to tell you how to change your application -- an application they don't even understand. But they will drum up whatever justification, because it's their paycheck. In social science, they call this "bureucratic inertia". It's kind of how the military always finds a war to fight (we've been at war constantly since WWII). Just like that, these central consulting employees will drum up justification for their battles and wars... Startups tend to not have time for this shite...

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

They lose their fire. And they lose their excitement for learning new things and innovating. And so they just go through the motions doing the things that worked in the past. This doesn't just apply to IT leaders, it applies to all leaders, but it is felt particularly hard in IT because the profession itself changes so rapidly that IT leaders have to keep up or risk becoming obsolete very quickly.

codemasterj
codemasterj

I'm totally with you on your points about integrity, professionalism, tenacity, and competency. I've lost quite a few jobs/projects for trying to stay on the path of "doing the right thing" for the companies I've worked with in the past. But at the end of the day, we still have bills to pay - which is why I think many competent IT professionals shy away from wielding the sword (as described in an earlier post) at all. With respect to your interim director, it seems she was just what the organization needed and happened to be there at a time when the company leadership was willing to actually listen (which is a bit of a rare occurrence in most companies). I think that part of the problem (also mentioned in another post) is lack of adequate representation of the IT in executive management. In general, managers at the upper levels hire "managers" beneath them to handle the business of IT. Not enough attention is given to the actual IT skill of the managers they are hiring. I've worked with many IT organizations in large companies and start-ups, and I've only worked with two (and I'm not exaggerating here) managers who actually understood the work everyone under them were doing and could actually get in and do the work, as well. For me, I work in much the way you suggest. I do my analysis, write everything up, and ask whether the company is interested in doing things "right" or "right now" before giving my recommendations. If they aren't interested in doing things right, I make sure they sign off on it and try not to complain about things as I do the work... like I said, still go to pay the bills. --j

dbecker
dbecker

Is that my manager doesn't continue giving his budget to his manager so: 1) we can't buy the absolutely positively necessary [hardware] items to keep going and 2) his manager doesn't take that budget and spend it on pet projects. Fortunately, we have an interim director who is looking to become permanent... who also looks like she will put a stop to the nonsense which has been going on for 20 years. She was "out" as far as the first family of IT power structure was concerned... and, here it comes, she did all the right things as not just a good manager, but as a truly GREAT manager. As a result, she prevailed and triumphed through being a thoroughly professional, competent and fair visionary leader. She did not succomb to doing the 5 things in the video. If a person follows process, is professional, treats people fairly and doesn't just present visions of good things to come but makes them happen, then, in due time -- and it may take a long time -- they will attain credibility and assume ascendancy in spite of all the rotten games playing of her so called peers.

Ishron
Ishron

The thing here is that you have to be right, be able to prove your right, and have enough management backing to get past all the departmental inertia that will do everything in its collective power to prove you wrong and stop the perception of change. There is nothing more sad than looking in your manager's eyes after thinking you have saved the day to see the OMFG look that tells you that your longevity at this company is now in total jeopardy. The pie in the sky "stand up for what you think is right" is a double edged sword that must be swung carefully otherwise you will scare the bejesus out of everyone . There is also the consequence of being right versus what is right for the business and where does this position IT. When you do decide to *man-up* just be sure that you have completely through through what *right* means and make sure that you can validate your version of *right* without cutting down everything in your path.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

until I read this: [i]It's kind of how the military always finds a war to fight (we've been at war constantly since WWII).[/i] At that point, I dismissed the rest of your post as nothing more than an anti-authority rant.

dbecker
dbecker

1) Lie to people who work for you; 2) Insure they know you are lying; 3) "Lock them in" so they can't do one bloody thing about it. Here are the results: 1) People become apathetic; 2) As soon as they have some way to get out from under control, there will be a rebellion; 3) Chaos ensues; 4) A lot of people leave the environment to strike out on their own; 5) The environment ceases to exist. Count on it.

Ishron
Ishron

This is a huge and hidden issue. Lots of IT departments get into a funk and stay there. This is much like the sports team that starts out every year to win the championship but falls someplace south of .500. Managers come and go without changing the underlying attitude of the IT organization because they don't understand the problem. Signs are blamestorming, misaligned services, poor CSat, etc.