by CIO Staff

Reader feedback on Effective Leadership

Mar 01, 2004 6 mins
IT Leadership

A Call for Effective Leadership

In the Nov. 1, 2003, editor’s letter [“Performance Arts”], Editor in Chief Abbie Lundberg asks if readers “agree that effective performance management is a key to your success.” My answer is no. To me, performance management is counterintuitive to effective leadership.

The term management seems best reserved for such things as processes, projects, budgets or time?certainly not people. People respond more positively to effective leadership than to effective management. When there is effective leadership, there should be little or no need for performance management. While I acknowledge that sometimes it may be required to separate someone under less than ideal circumstances, I do believe much can be done to mitigate having to “Find, Fix or Fire Your Poor Performers” (Nov. 1, 2003). The first step is to go above and beyond in making a good hiring decision.

Here are the four key questions, in order of importance, that I consider when hiring a new team member.

  • Are the individual’s character and values aligned with my company’s values?
  • Will he fit the culture?
  • Will he integrate with my team?
  • What skill sets does he possess?

Generally speaking, when an individual fails, he has done so because his leadership has failed. Leadership should not be taken lightly and not be confused with the task of management. Leadership of people is a privilege and should be treated as such. Those you lead have trusted you and have an expectation that you will lead by example. Effective leadership is a key to my success.

Martin T. Crean

Regional Technology Coordinator

Virchow Krause

No Room for Bell Curves

My initial reaction to “How to Find, Fix or Fire Your Poor Performers” was negative. I detest comments like, “Life is a bell curve. Get used to it.” Perhaps to a statistician or a sociologist, life is a bell curve, but that cannot be the attitude of management. I categorically reject the idea that 10 percent or 20 percent of the people in any organization are coming to work to fail. And when I “fix” or “fire” them, will another 10 percent or 20 percent take their place? That is the essence of the bell curve attitude?a constant battle waged by management to “cull out” the lowest 20 percent. Who wants to work in such an environment?

I have been in middle management for more than 15 years, and have almost 30 years of IT experience. I have managed organizations of up to 300 technical staffers. My budget responsibilities have exceeded $30 million annually in capital expenditures and $10 million to $15 million annually in operating costs.

Middle management likes to joke about how thin the air gets at the top as a way to explain the irrational ideas we sometimes receive from on high. I do not mean to denigrate any executive with this playful talk. But there is a reality to the point that after spending some time at the top, many executives seem to lose connection with the trials and tribulations of the rank and file. I’m sure most CIOs will deny it, perhaps sincerely. They want to believe they have their fingers on the pulse of the company. The truth is, that is rarely possible. The higher you go, the more issues, comments, complaints and even good ideas are filtered through a steady progression of (hopefully) well-meaning intermediaries.

James Bennett, Senior IT Manager

Forced ranking, in my opinion, is not an effective management tool. A bell curve is a mathematical description of random numbers, not people, and a manager who tries to make human beings fit one is someone I would strongly avoid.

Please give readers articles that focus on how to get people trained to increase morale and productivity rather than creating a cutthroat culture that counters productivity. Good managers treat employees like assets who can be improved upon instead of costs to control.

John Cook, Network Administrator

Benchmark Electronics

How to Groom Future CIOs

The shrinking role that CIOs are playing in today’s business environment is an ongoing and expanding problem (“The Incredible Shrinking CIO,” Oct. 15, 2003). As I ruminated on the whys and wherefores of what has led to this disturbing reality, I read the Dec. 1, 2003, Real Value column by Jack Keen on making the business case to justify IT investment (“Make It Clear”). Both articles focus on the disconnect between the world of IT and the world of business.

The past 15 years have seen different approaches used to gain control of the integration of IT into business. One approach is to place non-IT managers in charge of IT operations. It takes a gifted manager to run an operation he doesn’t understand. Another strategy is to educate the people of science to become businesspeople. Again, results vary, largely because being a businessperson is as much attitude and aptitude as it is acquiring knowledge.

The IT industry doesn’t have enough leaders prepared to function effectively in the complex and diverse role that businesses demand of them. Fortunately, though, the solution is already in place.

The strategy is a reverse variation of the science-person-to-businessperson approach. In that approach, an attempt is made to transform individuals with formal education in computer engineering or computer science into managers of the application of their science.

A reverse variation is to provide individuals with a business aptitude with a formal education in a combination of business administration, the technology of information processing, and the process of IS development and management. This approach focuses on the application of IT in a business environment, as opposed to the science of computing itself. To be more specific, the skill set is developed when individuals are provided with an education in business systems, such as accounting, finance, production, marketing. It is enhanced when they are schooled in the techniques of technology such that they acquire practical skills in programming, networking and databases. It is completed when they learn to apply industry-recognized methodologies for system development and management.

Many of our future CIOs will come from programs that follow this model. Given time, these individuals will gain the experience needed to work effectively at the strategic level of organizations where they are needed.

Jimmie Carraway, Senior Lecturer

Old Dominion University