What IT Leaders Need Most in 2012

By Marc J. Schiller  |  Posted 12-28-2011

As usual, in the run up to the New Year, tech media are littered with "top 10" lists and forecasting articles about the year to come. Consulting firms, research analysts, and tech publications (including CIO Insight) are calling on IT professionals and leaders to heed their advice and align to their proclamations lest disaster befall them in the New Year.

Well, no such list for me, for two reasons:

  1. There are way too many of them already out there, all saying nearly the same thing, and;

  2. They are a cop-out.

Yes, a cop-out. I say this because most IT-related top 10 lists do little more than affirm the ideas you already have. No top 10 list is going to inspire you to take on an important new professional development initiative or a thoughtful management realignment. You're simply going to nod your head in agreement with the generally known blah, blah and go about your business feeling good about yourself, as if you were on top of things.

Well, I'm sorry to say, that's a cop out. It's not good enough for me and it shouldn't be good enough for you.

So, in place of another not-particularly-inspiring list, I'd like to share with you what I see is the one, yes one, critical need and issue for IT leaders in 2012. What is it, you ask? Well, before I share it with you, let me tell you how I discovered it. It helps to validate the point.

Over the past year I have asked, and heard back from, thousands of IT professionals and leaders, about what it is you most want to achieve professionally. I have heard from clients in the course of work. From readers and conference attendees via email and in person. And I've received input from thousands of others via survey.

Hands down, the single biggest desire of the professional IT community boils down to this: To meaningfully contribute to the business or organization with which we work.

You have all told me, in hundred different ways, that you want to be innovate, creative leaders who drive revenue and support the strategic business objectives of your organizations.

Easy To Say, Not Easy To Do

You know what else I've learned over the last year? That it's easy to say that you want to "meaningfully contribute to the business," but it's a very different thing--and here's the key point--to have the courage to take the first and most difficult step to make it happen.

Because that first step requires letting go of professional development generalities and instead being willing to fully see one's own imperfections, weaknesses and professional vulnerabilities in concrete terms.

Not that I can really blame any IT professional for hesitating to do so. After all, the IT-business relationship is so fraught with politics that we have all become conditioned to "spin" everything. The problem, however, is that without naked reality, and without real professional vulnerability, there can be no creative growth. Without spending time feeling the pain and examining the problems and impediments that keep IT professionals from meaningfully contributing to the business, the solutions to the problem end up being empty lip service. In that way, it's no different than nodding sagely to your favorite top 10 lists of the year.

What is needed is pain, suffering and dissatisfaction. These are the catalysts of growth and change. Management guru Peter Senge calls it "creative tension," the gap between our vision for ourselves and our reality today. The pull of this tension encourages us to grow and to develop.

Alas, experiencing creative tension is not easy. And that's where courage comes in.

Honestly assessing your organization and its capabilities takes courage. Openly listening to feedback from the entire IT organization takes courage. Soliciting input from business peers, without a political agenda, demands extreme courage.

But the greatest bravery of all is that which is required to withstand the temptation to reach for quick and easy fixes. Rather, to be willing to sit with the difficult situation and to gently allow the fullness of the challenges you are facing transform into a wellspring of creative tension and creative energy.

What IT leaders need most in 2012 is not another top 10 list of tech trends to get behind, but rather the courage to build, and sit with, creative tension so that it drives a real transformation in IT management practices and in the IT-business relationship overall.

And so, my New Year wish to you is this: May 2012 be a year of great courage and bravery for you and your team, and may this courage bring you much professional dissatisfaction and, thereby, growth.

About the Author

Marc J. Schiller, author of "The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders," is a speaker, strategic facilitator, and an advisor on the implementation of influential analytics. He splits his time between the front lines of client work and evangelizing to IT leaders and professionals about what it takes to achieve influence, respect and career success. Download a free excerpt of his book at http://11secretsforitleaders.com