by Kim S. Nash

How to Spot a Future Leader

May 01, 2011

Recognizing potential leaders means looking for style, not necessarily outsized accomplishments.

It’s wrong to view leadership ability as something you have or you don’t, say IT executives known for cultivating leaders among their staff. If a person has the potential to lead, a skillful CIO can recognize this, refine that potential through a set of carefully chosen experiences, and produce a strong leader.

Cora Carmody, CIO of the $10 billion Jacobs Engineering, identifies leadership potential in staff two and three levels below her by closely watching the way those workers behave. Often they haven’t yet had the opportunity to prove themselves managerially on a significant project, but she can see whether they are, for example, open to feedback or adept at delivering bad news. She also looks for people who are comfortable bantering. “Confidence and a sense of humor go far,” she says.

Reddy Cherukupally, vice president of IT shared services at Jacobs and a 2011 Ones to Watch honoree, was working two levels below Carmody when she first noticed his self-confidence and facility with both IT and engineering. Not only had he managed distributed-computing systems, but he had also designed heat exchangers, pressure vessels and other industrial-engineering products.

Carmody moved Cherukupally to shared services, where he helped all IT groups make better use of India-based IT staff. Due to Cherukupally’s management and the growth of Jacobs’ IT capabilities in India, the company is bringing down its IT costs and improving global support, she says. Perhaps just as valuable, she adds, is that Cherukupally, by dint of his contagious leadership style, has improved the image of IT companywide. As Carmody explains it, leaders often inspire others to do their best, to do things they didn’t think they could, and encourage others—above, below and alongside them—to do the same.

“We [CIOs] should always be looking for new leaders,” Carmody says. “We owe it to them and to the company.”

Follow Senior Editor Kim S. Nash on Twitter: @knash99.