What Leadership Looks Like

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Outgoing by nature, Waire says that salesmanship must be in his genes, since he doesn’t have any actual marketing background. But he calls on the innate skill during capital appropriations reviews. For every major initiative he wants to implement, even if it’s part of the company’s business plan, Waire has to build a solid business case. He employs tools such as ROI calculations, internal rates of return and cost-based accounting—although he says his more important task is convincing the business that he can deliver. To do that, he throws out all the acronyms and speaks the language of the business. "Once you have ’sized the prize’ for them, you can actually deliver it," Waire says.

What to Watch For: Execution

And that’s the final ingredient that makes an IT leader one for the CIO to watch. Yes, vision and influence are essential qualities for future CIOs. But without solid execution, great ideas and successful marketing campaigns quickly fall apart. "You’ve gotta stand and deliver," judge Wilson says.

It takes time though to truly judge whether an IT leader is good at getting things done. "You have to look at the scope and reach of what they’re doing. It’s one thing to do a successful project; it’s another thing to do it across the entire organization," says Agnoli. "You also have to look at how successful they are. They need to build a track record over time, not just one good project." To do that, IT leaders need to be able to employ solid project management practices, hire and manage the best employees to execute those plans, and either get involved or delegate appropriately. And though it sounds rather circular, it takes an IT leader who has vision and influence as well.

Collins exhibits all that and more, says his boss. "He has the technical skill to see the vision before anyone else and the trust of the organization to go toward these goals before they are well- understood," said TransAlta Senior Vice President and CIO Greg Wilson when nominating Collins. "He understands the business better than most business guys and understands technology better than anyone in our company."

That’s why when TransAlta acquired three companies in New Zealand with the hope of integrating them into one, Wilson’s predecessor knew that Collins was the man to send to the other side of the world to get it done. Collins applied his "simple" recipe for solid execution: involving the business, bringing key vendors on site, hiring people who have previously worked on similar efforts and adopting standard project management practices. It worked. Collins started up the centralized New Zealand IT group from scratch and stayed on for two years to make sure things ran smoothly before returning to Canada.

For Ash Brooks, the key to delivering time and again is to "begin with the end in mind. I’m good at seeing what the end result should look like and designing systematic processes to get to that result." CIO and Ones to Watch judge Agnoli says such execution strategies are key: "It’s about knowledge of what you’re doing, knowing what should be in that plan and sticking to it. Communication before and after so you can catch problems before they become too big."

In 2002, Brooks (who before his IT career was the manager of a health club and owner-operator of his own automotive shop) was admitted to the executive MBA program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. At the time, Brooks was based in Arrow’s Denver office and commuted to Chicago for classes on every other Friday, Saturday and Sunday, landing back in his Denver office by Monday morning. But at the end of his first semester, the CIO asked Brooks to take over the entire infrastructure organization, which would require him to move to New York. He relocated himself and his family, took on a job triple the size of his previous one and continued with his trips to Northwestern.

Brooks had to learn a new way of getting things done—namely, trusting others. It’s a critical and often difficult step as IT leaders rise in the ranks. He also enlisted new forms of communication and measurement so that he could continue to view what was going on throughout the organization, even if he wasn’t intimately involved. He adopted an internal project methodology that had previously been used in application development and set up an enterprise wide IT infrastructure scorecard that he began monitoring on a monthly basis.

Brooks had the opportunity to test his newly acquired execution-by-delegation skills when he took over as vice president and general manager of Arrow’s military and aerospace line of business, while that business unit leader was on a two-month sabbatical.

And like all of our Ones to Watch honorees, it likely won’t be the last chance Brooks gets to test his hard-won leadership skills, either in his current position or someday soon as CIO.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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