by CIO Staff

How to Identify and Cultivate Your Future IT Leaders

May 10, 20057 mins
IT Leadership

Three successful CIOs presented to the group on their programs for staff development.

Ben Allegretti, Lt. Col. and CIO in the U.S. Marine Corps., summarized his unit’s approach.


For each person, create individual development plan. Allegretti’s formal development plan has three focus areas: Technical, “CIO,” and business.

The technical includes formal courses, hands-on and mentoring. The CIO area includes formal courses in CIO competences such as strategic planning, change management and so forth. The business area includes organizational indoctrination, employees focusing on business functional areas and establishing counterpart relationships.


Allegretti finds this area the most interesting and lists among the key things to remember:

  • Every conversation is a learning event.
  • Subordinates should brief the leadership (as a leader you should then set them up for success, shield them when necessart, have them write for you)
  • Let business leaders see your people (bring them with you; debrief, even after the little things).

And here, in brief, are his rules for leaders trying to develop those coming up after them.

  1. Walk the walk. Be a model, have your own individual development plan, take courses yourself, pursue the same kind of self-improvement you ask of your reports, etc.
  2. Shut up and listen. It’s easy to talk too much. Try not to.
  3. Deal with the difficulties. It’s highly instructive for your people to see how you handle a mistake or difficult situation, even if it’s hard for you.
  4. Get Help. Engage other business leaders to help you (and you help them) develop staff.

Steven Strout, CIO Morris Communications, was the next panelist and started by quoting his dad: “Leadership means getting people to go where they didn’t know they wanted to go.” His dad also said: “Some people are born leaders, but most people learn it. It can be learned.” And that has shaped his approach.

He recalled the development programs at his former employer, The Thompson Group.

Early Questions to Ask:

  • How do you calculate an ROI for increasing the thinking capability of your employees?
  • What’s the difference between developing a program of your own or just sending these folks to get their executive MBA?
  • You know you’re successful when…?

Strout would engage “learning groups” in workshops on people skills and business strategy classes. These consisted of 20-30 people for five days, including a ranking business leader going through it with them.


Raising the thinking capability of current people led to:

  • Alignment with the business
  • Face time with business executivess and leaders, which helps them understand big thinking an directional strategies and how to make sure that what they do on a daily basis moves the organization forward.
  • Reduced time and cost of filling management positions (Strout says recruitment fees were drastically reduced)
  • Rotated people thru different market groups, which helps build an internal network.
  • Lost a few to become CIOs/CTOs at other business (yes, that’s a good thing, says Strout, as it expands the network outside company walls)

“The biggest thing for us is that everybody leads. It’s not about being CIO or department manager, because in most cases our organizations haven’t been hierarchical but matrixed, project based.

John Von Stein, CIO, The Options Clearing Corp., talked about leadership development in general and about his experience as Cargill’s Latin American CIO in particular. (He went on a three-month temporary assignment to cut budgets, hire a new chief, and clean things up…he was there for 28 months.)

Beginning with a slide bearing this quote: “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it,” Von Stein said “Developing leaders is not about developing an individual, but about creating the ability to motivate others.” After invoking his oft-repeated mantra—If I’m right, all credit to my mentors and teachers and books I’ve read; if I’m wrong, I take full blame—he suggested that a manager is a person who makes other people get things done right. (“A lot of us may be married to a person like that,” he quipped). A leader is a person who makes people want to get things done right, while also ensuring that the right things get done.

Creating a leader is part science (process and tools), part art (knowing when to use science), part luck (timing is everything).

Von Stein’s five phases of development are:

  1. identify
  2. select
  3. groom (this is the heavy lifting)
  4. empower (this is the hard part, to let go)
  5. perpetuate

To elaborate:

  1. Identify: You’ve got to hire the right stuff, evaluate your people based on the right stuff, recognize them, retain them, promote the good ones and (here’s the hard part) cull the ones that don’t live up.
  2. Select: Your decision should be based on “experiential capital,” “potential capital,” willingness to do what’s required and, not to be undervalued, the selector’s gut reaction.
  3. Groom: This involves a long list, headed by the Individual Development Plan (which Allegretti and Strout also recommended). Von Stein’s recommends reading Loominger’s For Your Improvement. A tidbit of advice on grooming: People won’t remember what you said, or exactly what you did, but they will remember how it made them feel. (This applies to your treatment of your reports and their treatment of others.)
  4. Empower. Von Stein’s motto: Many minds, one mindset. A common goal empowers all. Gradually increase the freedom of reports to act on their own. Another key here: Relentless feedback—give, take, ask.
  5. Perpetuate. Read Good to Great by Jim Collins. In short, Level 5 leaders create more Level 5 leaders; Level 4s want to eliminate others as competition. Do succession management throughout the chain, not just your replacement, and develop a coaching culture. Have monthly 1:1 meetings (90 minutes, no agenda) with direct reports and other mentees.

Questions from the Audience

We want to develop high-potential development program. Do you keep the list of candidates secret? If not, how do you tell those not on the list why they’re not there?

Von Stein: Candor. You have to really figure out why they’re not on list. Is it skills, traits, experience? Tell them why so they can work on it.

Strout: We did keep it secret, in fact, because everybody can’t be high potential and we only picked x number of bodies we could really groom. We didn’t tell anybody. We didn’t even tell the high potential candidates.

Allegretti: It doesn’t work for us to keep secrets. We’re an up-or-out organization.

How you know you’ve done it right?

Strout: I look at cost of ownership. I can get more done for less cost today than two years ago. For us it’s been about 16 percent improvement. We get more through new people than new technology.

Von Stein: I got my successes one leader at a time. The litmus test of success is that I’ve moved on. And they’ve moved on to other firms; they individually have become extremely successful. I take pride that my alumni are doing well for themselves. And in new situations, some of them want to work with me again!

Allegretti: At the civilian employee and active duty level there are lots of measurement processes in the Marine Corp. and the Navy. But as CIO, I think the most meaningful litmus test is that other people want my leaders to come work for them. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

–Sandy Kendall, Web Editor