IT Leadership is Nothing Special

“Leadership is leadership. There’s nothing special about IT and there’s no such thing as IT leadership.” This is what I was recently told by a successful CIO of a billion-dollar plus company with a staff of more than100 full time employees.

The issue came up in the context of a round-table discussion on the topic of leadership challenges for today’s CIOs. Two other round-table participants echoed similar perspectives, citing their personal experiences to further support their cases.

If you find yourself agreeing with this perspective, you’re in good company. Unfortunately, you’re also absolutely wrong. Hard to believe? I’ll prove it. Just the same way I proved it to my panel co-members. It will only take about 30 seconds.

The proof that IT leadership is special

The proof is pretty simple. Because you (I mean all you CIOs out there) say so-albeit in a slightly indirect manner. Just take a look at the CIO Executive Council’s survey and report on Best Practices for Advancing the Strategic Impact of IT and the CIO. In this study, CIOs overwhelmingly point to “the lack of depth in leadership skills of their staff” as the No. 1 impediment to their own career advancement. In other words, whatever CIOs have been doing to date to develop the leadership skills of their people clearly isn’t working.

Now, if leadership is leadership-and by extension leadership development is leadership development-you are left with one of two sticky choices. Either IT people are freaks of nature who can’t learn what everyone else can. Or, you have to face the fact that IT leadership development is indeed different from conventional leadership development. (I suppose there is a third option: that IT folks simply aren’t getting any leadership development at all. But no self-respecting CIO at our roundtable wanted to go there for cover.)

Even if you’re not 100% convinced from this simple fact, you’re probably at least open to hearing why I believe IT leadership is different from general leadership. Let’s start with how we got into this mess in the first place.

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