The Big Ifs of IT Leadership

Most of us recognize that effective leadership is essential to our long-term success.  This is true whether we’re a CIO or entry-level developer. 

IT leadership is becoming increasingly challenging. Budgets are tighter. Technology changes faster than business requirements. No sooner is the latest project completed than the next one pops up. All the while you are expected to deliver the same quality of service with fewer people and shorter timelines.

It has never been harder to be a CIO.

So, what does it take to become a truly effective IT leader? That question plagues CIOs and aspiring CIOs alike. Rarely do we get clear and actionable answers.

Rather, much of the leadership guidance we get is vague and of little value. We’re offered such pearls of wisdom as, “improve your leadership presence,” “think more strategically,” or “integrate more with your business.” All are valid pieces of advice, but typically, the person offering that advice has no clue how to transform them into behavior changes. Neither does the person receiving them.

The hard truth is that–even with outstanding guidance–leadership excellence requires a lifetime of work. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts or quick fixes. It takes time, effort and many mistakes. The good news is that we don’t have to blindly stumble from one experience to the next in order to learn and grow. There are many good leadership development tools to help us assess our strengths and weaknesses and focus our learning. The best tools enable us to learn and grow from our experiences and hard work. 

My favorite tool is a poem written over 100 years ago, ‘If-‘ by Rudyard Kipling. It has provided me with concrete and useful leadership guidance for almost twenty years. ‘If-‘ describes a leadership path that I have chosen to follow. It has become an integral part of my leadership journey, and it can become a part of yours as well. 

Many colleagues ask, “What can a 21st century CIO learn from a Victorian-era poem?”  Kipling’s words are just as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. The poem is full of enduring wisdom relevant for today’s IT leaders. Its first two lines seem to have been written specifically for today’s CIOs: 

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;”

IT leaders regularly deal with crises, from system failures to vendor disputes. Most CIOs either keep their heads or they lose their jobs. Each of the poem’s sixteen couplets describes an essential leadership attribute. Together they form a comprehensive leadership framework that I call the “If 16.”©

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Daily Tech Insider for top news, trends, and analysis.

Latest Articles