Solving IT's looming leadership crisis

IT leaders are failing the next generation, but a one-on-one approach — at scale — can make the difference.

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I was having dinner with a very successful CIO recently. Knowing that I’m working with CIOs across multiple industries, he was quizzing me on the state of IT leadership, and what I said alarmed him.

I told him we’re about to face a leadership crisis in IT. Many CIOs and IT leaders are retiring, some just because they can, others to scratch the startup itch or to step away from a job with ever-rising demands that has left them fatigued and disillusioned. This leadership flight threatens to become a crisis because we haven’t been investing in our leadership pipeline to prepare the next generation to become basic leaders, never mind leaders who can command transformative IT organizations in the digital age. 

My friend looked back at his career and remembered the first time he was elevated to a leadership position and faced the “Now what do I do?” moment. Over the years, he’s found mentors on his own, and taken advantage of formal programs, assessments and workshops in which mentoring was a strong component.

With a pained look on his face, he admitted, “We haven’t been doing this for our new leaders. We just promote them into new roles and pretty much throw them to the wolves.”

Without support, we’re failing our fledgling leaders. We’re certainly not setting them up for success against the increased demands of the digital age. I work with many companies that offer some level of talent development. For those that are looking to build leaders as well as broaden their skill base, mentoring has consistently been a powerful tool.

The two-way street

While I’m professionally involved in mentorship initiatives through the Technology Leadership Experience, or TechLX, program, I’ve also personally been a mentor to many people over the years. When I talk to IT leaders who have invested a lot of time into mentoring, I hear the same impulse that drives me: the satisfaction of “paying forward” the many opportunities and the invaluable mentor support we’ve received over the years.

From a bottom-line perspective, mentoring improves your organization by grooming leaders and engaging and retaining your best talent. And helping others solve their challenges forces mentors to consider their own journey, their own assumptions and techniques.

“I was working regularly with a mentee, and one day she was telling me about a challenging employee she was dealing with, a rather unique situation,” says Dane Bamburry, director of solutions architecture, identity & access management, and content management at Cox Enterprises. After giving her his best advice, Bamburry realized he had a very similar employee situation himself — and could apply the same recommendation. “It was like the price of two for one!”

“Oftentimes the focus of mentoring is on the value that the mentee is receiving,” says Bamburry, who has had more than 50 mentees over the years. “But it's a bidirectional street.”

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