Could your management skills pass the test?

We hear from a lot of IT pros who are dissatisfied with the way their teams are managed. Could you use a management refresher?

"Executives are only going to notice when things go bad."

"Saying they [managers] care is one thing, but actions really do speak louder than words."

"A lot of the project managers that I have worked with were too involved in the 'nothing matters but the bottom line' mentality. Unfortunately, this leads to team self-destruction, missed deadlines, and a poorly completed project."

Could any of these statements have come from your employees? Or maybe you're an IT pro who is wrestling with the same sentiments about your boss. The statements are actual quotes we pulled from TechRepublic's discussion forum on IT management. Judging from the frustration level we see among IT pros, many find IT leadership lacking in the skills most likely to create and maintain happy, productive teams.

 "You do not lead by hitting people over the head. That's assault, not leadership." —Dwight D. Eisenhower

For many years, TechRepublic has offered IT managers advice on how to motivate their teams and keep them productive, as well as how to become a full partner in the business. This time, we've gathered six TechRepublic articles that explore the complicated dynamics of leadership and put them in one package, "The qualities of leaders". If you're a manager who's trying to be the best leader he or she can be, this collection is worth your time. If you're an IT staffer, you may consider sharing this with your boss.

We've put together a mini-quiz that draws questions from some of the six articles featured in this PDF. Test your skills against the answers offered by our experts.

In "Top 10 leadership qualities of successful CIOs," we contacted CIOs and technical executive recruiting representatives across North America and asked them to identify the leadership qualities of a successful CIO.

Question: How does a CIO manage expectations effectively?

Answer: Concentrate on internally marketing IT's ability to help a company reach its goals and objectives. But be careful not to oversell. "Many CIOs already understand the importance of internal selling skills," said Marc Lewis, president of the North American division of Morgan Howard, a global technology executive search company. "But if all you do is sell, sell, sell, and then you can't back up what you sell, you will drown in the bottom quartile. That's not a good place to be."

One of the best ways to not oversell IT is to have a team that can think on its feet and develop company solutions and strategies. "A good CIO inspires his team to provide a viable solution to every problem," said Alvaro Holguin, CIO for Telvista's Tijuana, Mexico division. "By constantly challenging team members with high expectations, they know and understand what is expected of them, which helps them focus on meeting deadlines and project requirements."

"Talking Shop: How to motivate your staff through the art of giving orders" teaches that the best way to motivate employees is to ask them, not tell them, what to do.

Question: What's the right way to ask for help?

Answer: Another factor affecting the success of delegating projects is the way in which you ask for help and positively reinforce your employees' actions. Management coach Lisa Taylor Huff said that if you become known as the kind of manager who verbally acknowledges people for their efforts, "People will be more receptive to your management style and will be less resistant to taking on the tasks you assign." She recommends using phrases such as these:

  • "Hi, Mary, I have a project I need your help with."
  • "I would really appreciate it if you would please...."
  • "Hey, Jim, I have something important I need you to do for me."
  • "George, I wanted to say thank you for making an extra effort to meet our deadline the other day."

Scott Testa agrees. Testa, who oversees 40 support technicians as director of support at Mindbridge, an intranet software company, said that the way you ask can make a big difference in how your staff responds. "I find that if I tell people, 'I really need your help,' they're more willing to work with me. By nature, most people like to help others, so when you put them in a position to help you, they really respond well."

In today's business world—where corporate leadership and integrity are under a big new microscope, given the recent illegal actions and financial shenanigans—there's no better time for executives to scrutinize professional actions and behaviors. And that group includes IT managers and other tech leaders. That's what we discuss in "Tough management decisions demand integrity."

Question: How do I motivate employees during tough times?

Answer: When member Richard F. Tompkins was IT director at Hyundai Motor America prior to the company's incorporation, he supervised a staff of 14 and made a consistent effort to support a team approach. He saw firsthand how a strong professional ethic can pay off.

"I made it a point to give lots of credit to the staffs of the other seven directors who had cooperated in the implementation of pilot systems to get us off the ground," he related. In fact, he hung a sign above his desk that read, "It is amazing how much can get done if we don't worry about who gets the credit."

The strategy worked: Nine months later, the company implemented systems for dealers, banks, import, and distribution with paperless systems exceeding every other automobile importer in the country.

You've read all about what to do to be good at your job. Take a look at what practices can seal your fate in the opposite direction with "The seven habits of wildly unsuccessful CIOs." IT staffers in our audience responded strongly to this one.

Question: Do you create solutions in search of a problem?

Answer: Any problem that arises is handled, always, in-house. Always. "They think that what they do is so absolutely special that nothing off the shelf could fill their needs," said Scott Testa, Chief Operations Officer for Mindbridge, a leading provider of Enterprise Intranet Software solutions.

"They expend a lot of energy looking for a solution that could have been bought right off the shelf," Testa said. These same CIOs often are not open to other vendors or anyone else "who may have other ways of solving certain problems," Testa said.

The CIO with this habit also will build products or provide services because they can, not because the company, or anyone else, needs them, explains Nikolich, who said this is the classic "solution looking for a problem" syndrome. The CIO or someone in his department develops a product to sell either in-house or on the open market. It dazzles the IT department.

But no one needs it.

This hardly reflects well on the IT department, which can lose quite a bit of credibility with the other non-IT departments and personnel. This can spell smaller budgets and work staff. However, that isn't the only reason this CIO is unsuccessful. This habit also is a very expensive one. Their solutions cost more time to develop and produce. Those same "solutions" could well be abandoned a short time later if a higher C-level employee gets wind of a better way—or even a worse way—if the in-house solution is genuinely a bad idea.

One of the hardest things for any leader to do is give negative feedback. But it doesn't have to result in wounded egos if it's delivered properly. In "How to give negative feedback and get positive results," we give tips for making the best of a bad situation, along with pertinent examples of these tips in practice.

Question: What's the three-step process to give negative feedback but obtain positive results?

Answer: (1) "Figure out what you want," says Peter Woolford, Boston IT and Engineering Search market manager for Kforce Inc. When you know what you want, you'll have a clearer idea of how to proceed. (2) Act swiftly. If you identify a problem, address it immediately. Don't wait two weeks or several months. (3) Be consistent. Give clear instruction, and make sure you enforce it.

Successful leaders know that their success depends on their reputation with their staff as well as with business peers. TechRepublic's "The qualities of leaders" PDF gives you a crucial glimpse into the mechanics of leadership.

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