IT Leadership Awards: The judging is complete

It became one of the most contentious debates of the day: what does a project really tell you about a person’s contribution to their company and industry?

This was the day we gathered the dozen or two judges of ComputerWorld Canada’s first-ever IT Leadership Awards to discuss the many nominations we received in our seven different categories. For obvious reasons, this was an in-camera discussion and I’m not going to report on the details, but I will say this: there were some tough choices to be made, and achieving consensus required considerable discussion.

One of the finer points of feedback from our judges was around the way we asked nominations to be written. Quite deliberately, we asked people to nominate themselves or their co-workers based on the work they did on a specific project in their organization. I’ve already published the scoring criteria in a previous post, but the ideas was to look at the overall impact of the project on the company, the contribution to revenue, reduction in costs and so on. These criteria were uniform across all categories, even though the categories themselves are highly distinct. We are recognizing IT leaders, IT managers, IT mentors, educators, rookies and women in IT. An obvious question might be why use projects, and why not differentiate?

We believe that projects are the testing ground for leadership. They are the stage on which leadership is acted out (or, regrettably in many cases, not acted out). Projects require the kind of effort, planning, problem-solving and decision-making that quickly reveal who is effective in a leadership role and who is merely treating their career as a nine-to-five job. Leadership can be about vision, but without some work to execute on that action – usually work that spans a certain period of time, with specific objectives and deliverables – it can simply become rhetoric. This entire awards program is one of our most special projects of 2010: helping to identify and celebrate a new generation of IT leaders.

That being said, several judges were right to point out that in some cases, the nominations provided plenty of detail about what the work on a particular project achieved, but perhaps not much about the person who was responsible for getting from A to B. This may be in part because traditionally, IT awards in Canada were almost completely about projects. People would win based on their projects, but not for their own inherent qualities. The emphasis is on what got done, not how it was done. As we evolve these awards, we clearly will have more training to do, helping our community of IT professionals realize that the project is an end, whereas we are trying to hone in on the characteristics of leadership that make up the means.

We kept the nomination forms consistent because we wanted an easy and accessible way to tell stories. That’s really how you experience leadership, and framing the questions might have shaped the way those stories were told. That may be worth reconsidering, but I was impressed by how, even in the most abstract of nomination submissions, the people around the table today were able to see what was really important about the work the winners did. Great leadership stories are only as good as the audience, and this group of judges demonstrated why we invited them with their attention and their expertise. I’d like to sincerely thank all of them for their time, their passion and their commitment to increasing the appreciation of IT leadership across Canada.