Leadership Training Courses Target What's Different About IT Execs

With the credibility and ultimate value of IT under a microscope these days, CIOs must demonstrate solid leadership skills, both within their IT departments and among other, non-IT executives. To meet the specific training needs of CIOs, a few programs that focus exclusively on IT leadership have cropped up. They offer differing perspectives and content, but each is aimed at making CIOs better, more credible corporate leaders.

CIOs have had training options for as long as executive education has been around. Yet leadership guru Barry Posner, who conducts training programs for both IT and general business executives, makes a case for CIOs to attend IT-specific events. "For IT folks, it’s helpful to get together with other IT folks. IT participants get left behind in programs that I teach with people from other disciplines," says Posner, who is dean and professor of leadership at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business and coauthor of a best-selling book on leadership. He points to the newness of the CIO position among executive ranks. By the time people reach senior leadership levels in IT, Posner says, they usually haven’t had comparable experiences in sales, manufacturing or finance?unlike CEOs, CFOs and COOs, who traditionally rotate through different high-level jobs. "A lot of people who have come up fairly quickly in the IT function have done so largely by putting out fires in technology," Posner says.

Being reactive is not the kind of leadership skill that CIOs need for success right now. Posner, along with Pete DeLisi and Ron Danielson, launched the Information Technology Leadership Program (ITLP) at Santa Clara based on research they had conducted on the CIO role. The trio asked CEOs what skills CIOs needed to be successful. They found that CIOs typically lacked the leadership traits needed to become a major player on the executive team.

The IT Leadership Program emphasizes skills-based training centered around strategic thinking, consulting, and effective management and leadership. Now in its eighth year, the program is offered twice annually as a three-day gathering. In case studies and role-playing exercises, participants are not simply taught about skills such as influence and relationship-building; they have to practice them. Small teams of attendees get a business problem to solve?for example, a vice president of marketing asks for IT’s help to boost business. Team members have to use questioning skills to gather information, negotiation and influencing skills to make decisions, and communication skills to present a final proposal. Throughout, participants are coached on their performances.

In addition, attendees glean leadership tips from peers, some of whom come in with their CEO in tow. DeLisi describes the IT Leadership Program as a support group, allowing participants to talk about shared problems.

Getting that peer perspective is what led Rahul Belani to attend the Santa Clara program in the fall of 2002. As senior vice president and CTO at publisher Jane’s Information Group, Belani was looking for advice about raising IT’s profile within the company. "I was interested in best practices for learning what the business expects and communicating value," he says.

While Belani says he was satisfied with the session, he didn’t come away from it with a host of newfound lessons. Instead, he found that the program’s "commonsense" content provided him with "a refresher on what you should be doing," he says. Because of the IT Leadership Program, Belani now takes a different approach to communicating what IT does for the company. In transitioning content management services from HTML to XML, for example, Belani refrained from waxing about the relative merits of the new technology. Instead, he emphasized how a new format would let the company more effectively reuse content and give customers access to information and analysis.

To close the communication gap between himself and his peers, Joe Hungate, CIO for the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, turned to Meta Group’s CIO Boot Camp. Hungate felt that his ability to work effectively with executives outside of IT was hampered by his background. "Having come from the IT ranks, my business jargon tends to be acronym-laden, and I make assumptions about people’s understanding of technology," he says. In April, he attended the Meta program, which emphasizes establishing IT’s credibility and demonstrating IT’s value.

The 4-year-old CIO Boot Camp runs for two-and-a-half days of intense sessions. Taught by Meta analysts, the Boot Camp covers plenty of operations-oriented material, such as IT portfolio management, infrastructure, enterprise architecture and governance. And like the Santa Clara offering, Meta’s program uses case studies and group exercises. But one major point of difference between the two programs is the target audience. While both programs are geared for CIOs wanting to further establish themselves as corporate leaders, the Meta Boot Camp is open to non-IT executives. A former COO from Hungate’s office attended the program last year. "IT is becoming increasingly more pervasive," Hungate says. "People stepping up to the boardroom need to be IT-savvy."

Hungate says the Meta program didn’t formally address what he considers a tricky aspect of leadership?developing camaraderie among colleagues. But the lessons on communicating IT’s value were particularly useful. After returning from the Boot Camp, he created an IT business council for his Treasury Inspector General’s office. Composed of non-IT executives, the council provides a direct way for IT to gather project requirements and establish metrics that support the business perspective. "It gets more people involved in the IT decision-making process," Hungate says, adding that IT and business managers have gained a better understanding of one another in the process.

Meta isn’t the only consulting company in the IT leadership training business. In February, Gartner launched its own version of a boot camp, a three-and-a-half-day program that’s designed around six "imperatives" for CIOs. These high-level agenda items?lead, anticipate, strategize, organize, deliver and measure?represent "the lifecycle of things a CIO needs to do well to succeed," says Diana Cirillo, vice president of product strategy at Gartner Executive Programs, the membership-based organization that runs the program.

Gartner’s boot camp uses case studies and invites guest speaker CIOs and non-IT executives to share their experiences and impart their perspectives. The Gartner program tries to tailor each session’s content to the strengths and weaknesses of the group. Before arriving at the program, attendees complete a personal diagnostic analysis that’s used to shape the curriculum.

While Gartner sees the customizable content as a selling point, Cirillo says the program’s real strength is the networking opportunity it affords CIOs. That was born out for Barry West, CIO at the National Weather Service, who attended Gartner’s inaugural program. "I started as a programmer and came through the ranks of IT," he says. "Networking with industry CIOs gave me a good perspective on some of the challenges they face things like IT security and tying service back to performance metrics."

Federal government CIOs such as West can also attend training programs specifically targeted at them. The CIO University, a consortium of universities that offers courses on a broad range of topics, was formed in 1999 to build expertise among government CIOs (for more about the consortium, see "Advanced Leadership Learning" at www.cio.com/print links). And now health-care CIOs have a program just for them too. The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) launched its three-day Healthcare CIO Boot Camp in October. Taught by industry CIOs and aimed at aspiring CIOs, the curriculum uses case studies and war stories centered around seven success factors: setting vision and strategy, integrating IT for business success, making change happen, demonstrating IT’s business value, instilling customer service as a core value, building a high-performance IS organization and cultivating a collaborative atmosphere. The response to the program has been strong enough that CHIME is considering whether to offer it twice a year, says Keith Fraidenburg, the group’s vice president of education and communications.

With IT-specific programs lasting three days at most, however, CIOs who attend them shouldn’t expect to become exemplary leaders overnight. Yet there’s value in getting away from the office, sitting down with peers and focusing exclusively on leadership challenges. Santa Clara’s DeLisi characterizes his IT Leadership Program as an encounter that gives attendees a taste of leadership skills?skills he expects CIOs to refine as they advance in their careers.

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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