IT – take it or leave it?

In the interest of getting some conversation going around the state of IT today and where current/future leaders might be taking it tomorrow, I thought I’d wade into intentionally provocative waters for this post and ask, “Could we do without IT?”

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Being in the right place at the right time

When I think about the difference between a great leader and an exceptional one, part of the answer is being in the right place at the right time, whether that means the right organization at the right time, the right industry at the right time, or the right discipline at the right time.

And when I think about the most pressing challenges facing organizations in 2010, one of the most critical is how to transform IT into a strategic, core competency analogous to the transformations manufacturing and supply chain went through in the eighties and nineties. Which means that IT leaders today are in the right place at the right time to be exceptional—if they can manage this transformation.

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Throw us a bone already

Especially these days, we all have horror stories of how poorly companies treat employees in a downturn. And it’s almost a truism that how an organization treats employees in bad times is a better measure of its character than how it treats them in good. I remember one downturn experience in particular that I think not only illustrates this, but also highlights some key challenges for folks who want to be effective leaders.

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Turning around in a greenfield (part 2)

In the last post, I shared the details of a leadership transition I lived through and suggested two factors that were important to the outcome. Let’s turn to each of these now in more detail.

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Turning around in a greenfield (part 1)

Like most folks, I’ve had the chance to live through a number of organizational transitions, some successful, some not, but all of them have been instructive and helped me prepare to some day “get the call” and take over the reigns of a large organization.

I’m running a client engagement now with the IT department of a Fortune 200 company in the middle of large-scale transition: new ERP system, new ECM system, and outsourcing large parts of IT and Finance all at the same time. Their CIO is in the thick of it, and it’s too soon to tell whether he (and the organization as a whole) will be successful. But it reminds me of a similar transition I lived through and whose outcome I did get to witness first hand…

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File under “foot in mouth”

Last fall I was involved on a project to help a large international organization speed up their globalization process using centers of excellence. As part of the data gathering, I spent some time in South America talking to IT leadership about their efforts to transform the technology group from order takers to a world class IT service organization. In an interview with their VP of strategy, the conversation turned to organizational structure–their Global CIO reported in to the SVP of Corporate Services, putting him three ticks below the CEO…something that always makes me probe further. So I piped up and said:

You know, when I see a new CIO at an organization reporting in under another CXO and driving an aggressive IT transformation project, it tells me two things. First, the previous CIO was likely run out of town for dropping the ball. Second, the new CIO is being put under another C-level leader as babysitter for a year or so to see how they’re going to perform before being given their real spot at the leadership table. So, would you say that your CIO is in this situation, or is the current reporting relationship part of business as usual?

There was a rather long pause, and then she responded, “I should tell you, I was the previous CIO…”, after which I didn’t hear much of anything for a few seconds. When I came to, I wasn’t shown the door, as I expected, but rather was given an opportunity to witness first-hand a great leader in the process of becoming greater.

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The kind of leader I’d like to be

There are many ways I could describe the kind of leader I’d like to be (successful, well-liked, charismatic, influential, caring, and so on), but if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be intentional.

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