by CIO Staff

Leadership Skills: Must Haves for Stepping Up

May 10, 20054 mins
IT Leadership

Moderated by Richard Pastore, managing director of content development for the CIO Executive Council, the last panel of the conference investigated what it takes to break away from the wannabes and become a leader your bosses, peers and reports can respect.

The keys? Delegate. Motivate. And manage expectations.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to fire some people.

Speaking for Delegation, Becky Blalock, Senior VP and CIO at energy provider Southern Company, drove home the point that “the job is not about you, but the people around you.” With a limited technology background and the task of managing 14 discrete functions throughout her enterprise, Blalock says she has had to master the art of delegation—a skill from which she thinks all IT leaders could benefit.

The key, she says, is building a team to which you can confidently delegate. And doing so requires concentrating on a quintet of corporate and personal traits:

  • Leadership: You must find people who actively pursue leadership roles.
  • Learning: The right people constantly want to learn new ways to help the business.
  • Relationship building: Integrity, honesty, and a willingness to work with people are key.
  • Trust: ” People will fall on the sword for people they trust.”
  • Diversity: By having a wide range of experiences in the organization, it will help the group reach better decisions.

Once you have the team together, however, the work doesn’t stop. Now you need to set clear expectations to make sure everyone is moving toward the same goals. Doing so requires setting aside time from busy schedules to build connections with staffers and to direct them on tasks rather than simply doing it yourself. And consequences for failing to meet goals must be laid out as well.

Proper delegation also requires constant and open communication. As Blalock said, “In the absence of communication, miscommunication will take place.”

But, she concluded, there are some things you should never delegate:

  • Selection of people.
  • Perfomance management and the coaching process.
  • Planning and setting the vision for the organization.

Next up, Gerry McCartney, Assistant Dean at the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, talked about motivation.

The key to motivation starts with yourself, McCartney said. “Get in a place where you believe in what you’re doing, so your not standing there making things up. If you don’t believe what you’re saying, you can’t be a good leader.”

Finding out if you’re in that place requires asking the right questions. What kind of organization do you work for? Constant crisis? Constant quiet? Who gets rewarded, superstars or team players? How will your boss know if you’re doing your job well.

If you can satisfy yourself with the answers to those questions, you’ll be in a better position to motivate those around you.

McCartney’s takeaways?

  • Know what it is you want and communicate it repeatedly and as clearly as you can.
  • Make sure your incentives line up with what you want.
  • Praise in public and criticize in private.
  • Insist that reports bring you the bad news first. “I don’t want to hear it from outside the organization. If the line manager doesn’t know about it, then he doesn’t know what he’s doing, which is bad, or he’s hiding it, and that’s worse.”
  • Spend most of your time with your best people and the least of your time with your worst. Otherwise your creating a perverse incentive.

Last but not least, Mykolas Rambus, CIO for W.P. Carey, spoke about managing expectation. The bottom line? Win or lose, IT must control the perception of a given project (while simultaneously managing the reality, of course.)

The key to this, he says, is finding the proper tools for your organization and then applying them rigorously. If your internal customers and bosses want documentation, create thorough documentation. If they value constant communication, leave articles on the CEO’s chair, pitch projects in the hallway, hold internal open houses, take a customer out to lunch.

It also pays, he says, to find the “cognitive preferences” of your various audiences. “If your CEO understands things in terms of stories, then use stories.” Rambus said his own boss preferred to get his information in the form of sound bites, so every project gets its own, such as one case where the bite was “Move [the process] from six months to two weeks.” From that point on, “We embedded that into our communication with internal customers,” Rambus says—while, of course, providing all the documentation and other communication required by other users of the system.

Put those things together, Rambus says, and managing expectations is “pretty straightforward.”

–Christopher Lindquist, CIO magazing Technology Editor and’s Tech Linkletterblogger