Management Memo: Laying the groundwork for leadership

Over the past several years I have had many discussions around differentiating leadership from management (some people seem to be quite passionate about this, equating management to administration).

In essence, leadership is about establishing a vision and exciting others to follow, while management is about getting things done through other people. Both are important to the CIO. Without effective management practices, there will be little discretionary time for effective leadership.

Most organizations I’ve been involved with do not seem to recognize that management constitutes a profession on its own — it has its own body of knowledge and requires its own skill development. It is not simply an add-on for a senior technical or administrative person to assume at some career juncture. I think it is well understood by now that good technical and administrative professionals do not necessarily make good managers.

If organizations truly recognized management as its own important profession, then they would invest the same time and effort into training and mentoring good managers as they do in developing sound technical professionals. Such training would certainly focus on management processes, such as planning, directing and monitoring, but would also provide the background good managers need to handle human interactions.

During my management career, I had many challenges arising from people issues. For example, one of my star employees once confided in me that he was having marital problems that could impact his performance at work. I’m not aware of any canned process described in some manual on how to handle these types of situations; this is simply the test of the manager as a human being and his ability to reach out to someone in trouble. Interactions like this one can have a huge impact on the employee’s view of his manager and the organization. They might even have a sizable impact on his future performance. Understanding a little basic psychology can provide insights into employee behaviour that can pay off in successfully managing difficult people issues.

Finding the time to be a leader

So what does this all mean to the CIO? As a CIO you certainly want to be spending more time in the leadership dimension of your job — establishing the vision of IT in the organization and the strategies to attain it. How do you find that discretionary time? By ensuring that you and your management team possess a broad range of management skills, and continually work at developing them.

Without this continued focus, you and your managers will be spending more time ‘doing’ instead of ‘managing’, and will probably be faced with morale problems. Remember, if you and your management team are continually solving problems, the best you can do is reestablish a state of normalcy — that is, nothing advances; you are simply back to your base line.

I find a good way to think of CIO effectiveness comes from the physical principles of leverage. If the fulcrum is in the right spot, one small movement from the CIO generates significant movement at the other end. Or you could think of it as a Swiss watch — one incremental rotation from the main gear (the CIO) causes the others to spin in progressively more rapid rotations.

Good management is a skill that must be developed. Some of this will come from trial and error on the job and some from proper instruction, mentoring and practice. Make sure you invest enough time and resources on developing your management team. It might ultimately help you become a better leader.

Next month I’ll look at some simple techniques to increase managerial leverage and effectiveness.

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–Graham J. McFarlane, P.Eng., ISP, FCMC is a consultant who has worked with IT management, both in Canada and internationally, since 1978, focusing on improving IT effectiveness. Prior to this, he spent ten years with IBM Canada.

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