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The Value of Technical Leadership

Unfortunately, IT leadership is a rare commodity due to confusion about what it really is, as well as economic, time, and cost pressures. In this introduction to their book,Jeff Feldman and Lou Russell explore the foundations of how to become a good IT leader.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Strong Information Technology (IT) leadership will grow IT teams who can meet and exceed business goals—it makes market sense for the business and for IT professionals. Unfortunately, IT leadership is a rare commodity due to confusion about what it really is, as well as economic, time, and cost pressures. Alchemy, the study of changing what is common to what is precious, is a good analogy for what we would like to accomplish with this book. We would like to leverage the strengths of ordinary IT managers and provide them with tools that they can use to transform themselves into leaders.

In today's IT shops, the inability of IT to show value-added to the business, coupled with increasing demand for its services, is creating agony. What's creating agony in the IT environment?

  • The complexity of IT work has increased due to rising time and cost constraints, ever-changing technological options, and a highly competitive business climate that demands quick innovation at low cost.

  • Most IT project managers manage global, enterprise-sized projects (ERP) with virtual teams, multiple external vendors, and priorities and requirements that change constantly.

  • IT project managers who are not on ERP-sized projects juggle 10 to 20 different projects, acting as project manager, developer, and implementer, with the constant challenge of prioritizing this work.

  • At the same time these situations demand more, IT organizations are shrinking to cut costs.

  • Many companies cannot prove that their technology investments provide a positive return on investment.

  • IT is expected to say "yes" to all business technology needs, but without the ability to say "no," the quality of the solutions suffers.

  • IT managers, rewarded for being gifted technologists, suddenly find themselves in management positions without any training or resources to help support them in a people-oriented role. Nor have many been exposed to good IT leadership examples. Contrast that with a strong CIO, who knows he must be literate in the latest technology while also managing myriad relationships from vendors, to internal executives, to internal customers, and to their direct reports. The skilled CIO manages and leverages these relationships while allowing others to manage and leverage the technology. This type of thinking is alien to new IT middle managers, who tend to respond to crises by desperately returning to the skills that brought them success in the past.

  • Companies tend to invest in IT leadership competency (for example, conflict management, negotiation, relationship management, transition, coaching, and change management) far less than in training for other skills. Send a CIO to an executive leadership retreat at Harvard and price is no object. Ask for permission for a middle manager to attend a five-day IT leadership workshop down the street, and you'll be asked to find a cheaper e-learning alternative to be done during downtime.

  • IT practitioners are stressed and tired. Extended work hours and 24/7 virtual home offices, considered temporary during Y2K work in the late 90s, have become the status quo.

We wrote this book to help you grow the leadership skills you need to overcome challenges like these so you can achieve success in your IT organization. You'll learn why, when, how, and with whom to apply these new tools that will enhance the tools you already have. The first chapter will help you create a plan to best invest your reading time for maximum return.

Opportunities for Growth

After reading this chapter, the reader will be able to:

  • Define IT leadership

  • Use the alchemy metaphor to organize and identify personal characteristics that will make you a more effective IT leader

  • Assess and build a plan to develop your own leadership abilities

  • Use your own strengths and weaknesses to prioritize the time you spend exploring this book


What is Leadership?

Alchemy: Turning Common Into Precious

Assessing Your IT Leadership Competencies

Navigating This Book

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