by Todd Datz

Promoting IT Leadership

Sep 15, 20032 mins
IT Leadership

Capt. Robert Day, division chief for the United States Coast Guard Pacific Area, recognizes that his IT organization, which numbers 265 people, has a serious gap in leadership development. Unfortunately, he has found it to be a difficult fix.

The deep-rooted culture of the Coast Guard has always favored generalists for promotion to leadership positions. “Since the Coast Guard’s real mission is flying planes and saving lives, IT specialists were not readily looked upon as guys who’d be promoted to admirals and commandants,” says Day, who is in charge of command, control, communications, computers and information at the Coast Guard in Alameda, Calif. “There wasn’t a direct tie of the work they did to the operational side of the business that the public sees. Consequently, we’ve had a lot of problems with retention.” He estimates that from 1996 through 2000, about half of the folks with the most leadership potential left for the public or private sectors, frustrated by the lack of upward movement and no formalized leadership program.

Though it will take a boatload of time for IT specialists to break through the cultural barriers and be viewed through the same lens as their cutter- and airplane-piloting brethren, Day feels things are moving in the right direction. “The biggest thing has been the circling of wagons of senior IT leadership for mentoring these guys and at the same time fighting the case with senior [Coast Guard] leadership of letting the business guys know in business terms what these [IT] guys can do,” he says. Day is also excited about last year’s appointment of Clifford Pearson as CIO. Pearson is the first CIO since the Coast Guard created the position seven years ago who has a predominantly IT background. “We’re seeing the impact of that decision already,” he says. “There’s a much tighter focus on the entire IT program, and alignment with key business is even closer.”