Building Leadership Continuity

By Larry Bonfante  |  Posted 03-01-2010

Many people assume that executives are born with leadership qualities. I don't buy that premise.

Leaders tend to have different personalities. Look at Michael Jordan. He definitely had some natural talents, but he was the first guy in the gym and the last guy to go home--and that had a lot to do with what others viewed as a God-given gift.

Just about every article I've read on the topic of succession planning over the past few years has stated that there is a lack of qualified leaders to replace Baby Boomers as they set off into the sunset (that is, if our 401(k)s have enough wind in their sails!). What are we doing about that?

Perhaps some people feel that this will no longer be their problem when they retire. I say that true leaders know that developing other leaders is perhaps the most important responsibility they have. But how can we develop the next generation of leaders?

First of all, the CIOs of 2020 and beyond must possess a different focus and a changed set of skills from those the CIOs of 1990 had. The role will focus less on running a utility (although you'd better keep the lights on), and the operational piece of running IT will be assumed as table stakes.

The real role is to engage with your customers, executive-level peers and board members to help drive the strategy of your business--and to lead and influence business executives to carry out that strategy. Strategy without execution is a dream; it takes both sets of skills to be effective.

But there's a problem: Most graduate schools don't teach many of the skills CIOs need to succeed. And these experiences are often hard to come by in the day-to-day work of midlevel IT executives. Therefore, we need to make a conscious effort to provide opportunities for our future leaders to learn these skills and gain exposure to the situations they need to grow.

While there are many skills required for success at this level, I would highlight a few that I have found lacking in aspiring IT leaders. These skills include the ability to develop relationships at the board and executive level; marketing the efforts of your team to key stakeholders; capturing the attention and obtaining the funding required to drive strategic initiatives; managing partner relationships; truly viewing yourself as part of the business (not "aligning" with the business--I hate that expression); and recruiting, developing and retaining high-performance teams.

Most organizations have not instituted processes and support systems to develop these skills in their people. They don't have mentors or coaches for their budding leaders. They assume leadership will somehow evolve through osmosis. Good luck with that!

I believe passionately that you must work to coach and mentor people in the areas they need to develop before you throw them into a baptism of fire. I am so passionate about the need for executive coaching at this level that I have started a practice to help new and aspiring IT executives develop these skills.

Does your organization have a plan in place to identify developmental areas for their upcoming leaders? For that matter, do you have a plan in place to address your own areas of development? (We all have them.)

If not, how do you expect to get from where you are to where you hope to be?