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“Core Skills and Transformational Mind-Set” Please respond to the following:
Examine the “Core Skills for Success” in Chapter 1 of Roberts’ text. Analyze the primary manner in which these skills aid IT professionals when an organization must implement information system changes. Support your response with at least two (2) examples of an IT professional’s application of the core skills for success.
Investigate the manner in which three (3) of the six (6) mind-set and behavioral changes impact IT leadership’s ability to promote change in an organization in relationship with integrative functions and processes. Provide one (1) example to support your response.
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Core Skills for Success
To remain viable, IT leaders need to proactively transform their organizations and cultures. To
accomplish this, they need to develop an IT workforce that has the new mind-set, skill set, and
tool set necessary for success, such as communicating, building relationships, collaborating,
managing change, marketing, and negotiating. These are the skills that are necessary for
effectively filling the growing percentage of IT jobs that are business-facing.
You’ve heard this before, but today it’s no longer just a suggestion: What have historically been
termed soft skills are the very skills that will drive IT to the level it needs to reach to be viable in
the future. In fact, savvy IT leaders no longer use the term soft skills when referring to these key
capabilities. They call them core skills, because they’re exactly what is needed to achieve hard
results. Chapter 14 contains the full list of core skills or competencies that have been identified
as the most critical for success in IT today and in the future.
If you step back for a minute, you will see that the need to evolve isn’t surprising. The IT
profession is really still in its infancy. It’s only a few decades old—a new kid on the block
compared to its peers in other business areas that have had centuries to develop. I can imagine a
time in the future when we’ll look back at the second half of the twentieth century as the time
when IT was just cutting its teeth.
In some ways, IT professionals are now living through the tough teenage years of their
profession. They’re wrestling with internal turmoil they often don’t understand while defiantly
ignoring the advice and experience provided by the external environment. Like teenagers, they
want so badly to be independent and earn the respect of their peers and elders. However, their
erratic, mercurial behavior and unpredictability continue to demonstrate their immaturity.
The exciting news for IT professionals is that they’re poised to enter adulthood. And this new era
will have less to do with a command-and-control or bits-and-bytes mind-set and more to do with
being collaborative and versatile business partners.
Assess Your Core Competencies
Since the original launch of this book, we have worked closely with industry-leading chief
information officers (CIOs) to create an IT-specific competency assessment and development
tool that helps drive their transformation journey. Working closely with our publisher, we are
excited to provide you with access to this cloud-based self-assessment tool. At the end of
Chapter 14, you will find a link and an access code for a 14-day free trial of the online IT Skill
Builder assessment tool. Completing the assessment is easy and straightforward and will provide
you with the following:
• A report showing where you have strengths and the areas of opportunity to improve in each
competency.
• A succession planning feature that allows you to compare your assessment results with the
expectations of other roles so that you can identify areas for improvement to work toward your
desired future role(s).
• A resource guide loaded with more than 350 suggestions.
• An individualized development plan that is built by you around your specific development
goals.
• An O&A coach who will serve as a resource to help you get the most out of your trial.
We also reinforce some key concepts throughout the book that apply to multiple competencies.
For example, you’ll read a lot about the importance of teamwork and collaboration—not just with
clients, but also with peers in IT. It’s time for IT professionals to rid themselves of us-versusthem tendencies, because to meet the needs of the business, everyone needs to row the boat in
the same direction.
Interpersonal skills also come up a lot. In fact, one of our consultants refers to his project
management workshops as a “three-day charm school.” Interpersonal skills, or core skills, lead to
strong relationships, which lead to trust, and with trust we can overcome even the most difficult
situations.
IT professionals tend not to like the touchy-feely stuff, but you’ll also read a lot about empathy,
an area of weakness in the IT profession. You’ll find that empathy is less touchy-feely than you
think and that it is actually a key tool for working through conflict, building relationships, and
achieving your full potential. It’s a matter of listening to the other person’s perspectives and
letting that person know you’ve heard and understand him or her. You don’t even need to agree!
Who Will Benefit Most?
A wide range of people will benefit from reading this book, including IT leaders holding titles
like CIO, business unit or regional information officer, vice president, director, or manager.
Whether you are the CIO of a 10,000-person IT staff that spans the globe or a manager
overseeing a local IT team, I am confident that you will benefit from reading this book. We are
excited to share the experience, best practices, and proven techniques that other IT leaders are
using to reorient, reskill, and retool their IT workforce and build a new culture.
It’s not only leaders who will benefit from this book. Wherever you are on the IT staff—whether
you work in applications or in the technology infrastructure side of the IT business or you aspire
to management or wish to be the most effective individual contributor you can be—this book
will introduce you to the philosophies, skill sets, and tools that will help you meet the challenges
of your profession. If you follow the latest research and read industry trade publications, you
know that an increasing percentage of IT jobs and roles in the future are going to be facing the
client and the business, and we will help you prepare for these new opportunities.
Getting the Most out of This Book
We believe that each of the chapters in this book is important for success. That being said, we
appreciate that every IT organization is in a different stage of transformation evolution and that
some chapters will be more immediately applicable than others. We also appreciate that it isn’t
feasible to effectively tackle all these areas at once.
Therefore, we recommend that once you’ve read the book, you identify the two or three chapters
that address the areas most pressing in your organization today. Make these a priority in your
organization and strategy planning. Demonstrate your commitment and sponsorship by taking
every opportunity to “walk the talk” and communicating these priorities to your people.
We also advise that you engage each level of your management team in your IT initiative,
because all levels play a critical role in building a new culture. Include them in establishing
priorities and determining action plans, and hold them accountable for achieving these priorities.
Don’t allow them to revert to their technical comfort zones. Many clients have used the first
edition of this book in an IT leadership book club format: reading and discussing the chapters
that are most applicable to their organization, or reading the book in its entirety. Be sure to
position your people for success by investing in them and providing them with the new skills and
tools they’ll need to be successful. This approach will help you address today’s priorities while
building momentum toward the future.
Warning! Do not start down this path unless you are seriously committed to sustaining it. If your
efforts are not continued, you will add to the cynicism level created by past transformation
initiatives that ended prematurely or were pushed aside by yet another flavor of the month. Slow
and steady can win the race, but starting and stopping is not an option; it will negatively affect
your reputation and the credibility of IT across the enterprise.
So let me modify the statement I made at the very beginning of this chapter. I still say there’s
never been a better time to be in IT, but I’ll add that there’s also never been a more challenging
time in IT’s short history. The question is, are you up for that challenge? Because if you are, we
wish you success and are excited that you have included us in your transformation journey!
How to Make This Transition: Learn to Think Differently
It’s so easy to fall into old, comfortable habits. But as I’ve worked with IT leadership teams
across the country, I have found that there are six mind-set and behavioral changes that must
precede a successful leadership transformation.
Mind-Set Change 1: Force Yourself to Plan and Think of the Big Picture
Like it or not, IT can no longer afford to be all things to all people. Given all the demands for
technology-enabled business initiatives, it’s actually beneficial to everyone—including your
clients—to develop a strategy that’s based on a set of clear, finite priorities formed by what’s
most important to the client, both within IT and out in the business. That way, if clients ask for
systems or projects that are off the list, you can help them see for themselves where these
requests fit (or don’t fit) into the overall business strategy. When someone tries to add something
to IT’s plate, you can manage that situation effectively rather than running around fighting fires.
I often hear IT leaders say, “I could be more strategic if I just had more people to get things
done.” But it’s a vicious cycle: Without a strategy, you’ll never have enough people, because it’s
impossible to “get it all done.” The only way to line up your resources effectively is to identify
priorities based on business strategy. In some cases, I’ve seen organizations discover they have
extra resources, which enables them to volunteer for additional projects, doing wonders for their
reputations.
The important thing is to have a collective, consolidated view of what IT needs to get done. And
that view needs to extend across the entire organization. I’ve seen leaders make the mistake of
letting each IT area identify its own list of priorities, and these lists eventually conflict with one
another. Instead, the entire IT organization needs to develop one set of priorities, all focused on
what’s most important to the business.
Developing this list of priorities depends, of course, on getting out there and talking with clients
on a frequent basis. IT leaders need to venture out into the business community and interact with
peers and department heads on a formal and informal basis, and they need to encourage their
staffs to mingle with their business clients as well. This is so important that we’ve covered the
topic of networking and building rapport in great depth in Chapter 5, which focuses on
consulting skills.
In some cases, when you meet with business leaders, you may discover that they don’t yet have a
clear strategic plan themselves. But you absolutely can’t take that as an excuse to not move
forward. In fact, if you’ve established a strong level of trust as an IT leader, you’re in a great
position to encourage business leaders to develop a strategy and even facilitate the process of
building one. They will come around quickly if you can articulate to them that without a strategy,
there’s no way to establish priorities, and without priorities, there’s no way to assign resources to
achieve the outcome they expect. People generally respond when they see the win in it for
themselves.
Of course, this conversation can’t even take place if you don’t have a prior relationship with
business leaders. So for some of us, the first step is identifying the people you need to develop a
relationship with, whether in IT or in your client base, and then reaching out to them before you
need something from them. Your contact has to be genuine.
Mind-Set Change 2: Adopt a Proactive Approach
You simply can’t be a leader if you assume a passive, victim mentality. I see too many IT
organizations that would rather point fingers, cast blame, and take the easy way out. But true
leaders create the future, and that means doing the hard work of assessing the world around you
and taking preemptive action. It may seem at first to be a much harder path to take, but it’s
ultimately much more satisfying to realize we can take actions that will affect the outcomes in
our lives.
I’ve seen dysfunctional leaders who wait until they hear a critical mass of client complaints
before they take steps to improve their department’s level of service. Or they assume everything’s
going well only because they’re more comfortable sitting in their offices answering e-mails than
interacting with staff, clients, and fellow executives who could provide them with critical input.
High-performance leaders, in contrast, are always looking to raise the bar, before clients
complain. They’re socially aware, able to read the political landscape, and engage in social
networks. Indeed, effective leaders spend much of their time working with people, including
clients, other leaders, and their staffs. They also make it part of the staff performance review to
report on what they’ve done to nurture their key relationships.
Mind-Set Change 3: Resist the Temptation to Delve into Tactics
Many IT leaders are techies at heart. They love jumping in and fighting fires when crises arise; in
fact, they may even believe that no one else on their staff could resolve the problem as well as
they can. It’s also fun being the hero, and it’s definitely thrilling to rise to a demanding,
immediate challenge.
However, it’s not your job as an IT leader to react to short-term situations; you need to be
strategizing about the future. If you don’t do it, who else will?
In my leadership workshops, I consistently hear participants say they don’t have time to engage
in leadership activities. One told me he didn’t have time for the “soft and fuzzy stuff” involved
with building relationships. I tell these people there’s something very wrong going on if that’s the
case. Perhaps they don’t have an effective team in place, or perhaps they haven’t created an
environment in which the team members know what’s expected of them and are accountable for
their performance.
Others use “no time” as an excuse for their feeling that they hate pulling themselves out of
technology work. They don’t like solving problems that involve people; they’d rather work with
technology, which is more cut-and-dried. If that’s the case, a leadership position may just not be
for them.
Leaders would often have the time if they only managed their time better. It’s amazing how
terrible our time management skills can be, even at the highest positions in the company. For
example, e-mail can be a real time drain—it’s all too easy to be drawn in by every new e-mail
that crosses your screen. I recommend that leaders check their e-mail three times a day—once in
the morning, once at noon, and once at night—and otherwise shut it off. Meetings are another
time drain. I recommend creating agendas for meetings and sticking to them. If you develop
agendas in advance, people can be prepared, and the meetings will progress more quickly and
smoothly.
Becoming less tactical and more strategic also requires quiet time, so schedule some time on
your calendar for just thinking. It’s easy to let your calendar get filled by meetings—including
meaningless ones, like vendor lunches—but you need to have the discipline to schedule time for
strategic thinking, which might mean leaving the office and going somewhere off-site where you
can find peace and quiet.
I know a CIO at a global company who visits client sites around the world to talk with them
about their needs. When he returns, he schedules time on his calendar to review his notes and
follow up with suggestions and strategies to fulfill those needs.
Delegation is another crucial tool for clearing time on your schedule. This, of course, requires
having staffers whom you trust to lead in your place. As a CIO, I used to have customers call me
and ask that I personally get involved with something they wanted done. Even in those cases, I
would sometimes delegate the work to a trusted staff member. I would assure the clients that
they were in good hands and that I had personally chosen the best individuals for their needs. It’s
all how you frame it.
If you think you’re the only one who can jump in when problems arise, that’s a warning sign. We
may love being the hero and revel in resolving crises, but those are reactive activities, and we’re
consigned to be proactive leaders.
It’s easy to think we don’t have the time to do this leadership work, but that’s actually why we
were hired; it’s the value we bring. We need to take a close look at what we do with our time and
clear the decks of non–value adding tasks by delegating to our staffs, managing our time more
effectively, and analyzing whether certain tasks are even necessary.
Mind-Set Change 4: Be Candid with Yourself and Others
The best leaders I’ve seen have the courage to be candid, particularly when it comes to conflict.
People generally don’t like conflict and seek to avoid it, mainly because they don’t know how to
deal with it. Handled well, however, conflict can actually be part of a very constructive process
that ultimately leads to innovation. That means keeping emotions out of it and not taking
disagreement personally. If there’s something you don’t think is working, say so. It’s a cowardly
choice to verbally agree and then walk away full of resentment that you didn’t get your way.
Dealing with conflict is such an important skill that we’ve covered the topic of conflict
management in Chapter 6, in which we focus on learning to negotiate.
Another area in which IT leaders need to be honest and candid is their own capabilities and
weaknesses. When you’re candid about your weaknesses, you can surround yourself with people
who are strong in those areas. The IT Skill Builder assessment tool is an easy and effective way
to assess your core competencies and create a development plan to overcome any gaps. But
remember, when you do your self-assessment, it’s important to identify real areas of weakness,
not superficial ones. Maybe you’re weak at selling ideas or you overload your schedule, get
impatient with people, or lose your temper. Maybe you have trouble developing relationships,
motivating or coaching direct reports, delegating responsibility, or being positive. Maybe you’re
just shy. Once you identify such challenges, you can begin to work on them or hire people who
can fill in the gaps.
Mind-Set Change 5: Prepare for and Embrace Change
The IT profession is all about change. If you as an IT leader resist change or never see it coming,
it can have a truly negative effect on the company and on your career. If you act like an ostrich
with its head in the sand, choosing to ignore change, you’ll miss the opportunity to effectively
manage the expectations of the business, your clients, and your staff.
Change comes in many forms. There can be changes in corporate culture, business direction,
industry competition, or technology direction. There can be disruptions in the geographic
landscape or changes in government regulations, legal requirements, and security threats.
Whatever the nature of the change, we need to be aware of its potential and be capable of
analyzing how to deal with it. One good way to do that is to apply the SWOT tool: identifying
the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the change. This topic is so strategic that
Chapter 3 has been dedicated to developing the ability to lead change.
Mind-Set Change 6: Anticipate, Understand, Respect, and Work through
Complexities
There’s no getting around the fact that our success depends on our relationships with our clients,
peers, and staff. Effective leaders absolutely must get out of their offices and from behind their
computers and work on developing relationships. It’s only by frequently talking with clients,
staff, and peers that you can anticipate what’s coming down the road, develop a …
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