by Maryfran Johnson

Singing in the Lifeboats

May 03, 20092 mins

Even in a tough economy, CIOs need to remain optimistic and continue to develop future leaders

I’m not much of a believer in inspirational quotes or feel-good slogans. In fact, I’m inclined to make fun of them unless they’re funny to start with. Like the one: “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”

If you’ve never visited and cracked up over the Demotivators Calendar (“for the person who has everything but still isn’t very happy about it”), I’d recommend it as a refreshingly silly, five-minute mental health break.

During one such break the other day, I came across a quote that crystallized what life in this current recession feels like, though with a welcome twist of optimism. “Life is a shipwreck,” wrote Voltaire, the 18th-century French philosopher, “but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”

As you read our cover story on “Forging Good Leaders in Bad Times,” you’ll catch a bit of that same lifeboat spirit coming from these future CIOs. This is a story about IT leadership development, based largely on the findings from our annual research and awards program to identify the “Ones to Watch” among your staff.

This year’s group of 25 watchable IT executives is a savvy, deeply experienced crowd. The honorees were selected from over 100 nominees, the vast majority of which are Generation Xers. Some of our honorees have already moved on to better opportunities and they all see the double-edged sword presented by the current economy in honing their leadership skills.

“I am using our current business challenges as a learning experience [for my staff], talking about the difficult decisions leaders must make to adjust to a changing environment,” says Risa Fogel, an IT executive in the real estate industry who recently moved from Realogy to Cushman & Wakefield.

Yet as talent management falls to the bottom of the list for many companies today, this next generation of leaders is “developing whether you want them to or not,” as one management expert warned. And those who “self-select” into leadership roles aren’t necessarily qualified to forge ahead without guidance or mentoring.

What our research for this story shows is that a shipwrecked economy is indeed giving the IT leaders of tomorrow some unprecedented opportunities to step up. What today’s CIOs must remember to do is keep that chorus going in the lifeboats.