IT is becoming increasingly important in our working lives. Businesses are dependent on their information systems and new technologies continue to create business opportunities, writes Robina Chatham, visiting fellow at Cranfield School of Management.
However, the reputations of many IT functions and the status of many senior IT managers has not risen in accord with the increasing importance and opportunities presented by IT.
The credibility of the IT department is based on perception rather than detailed performance data and is influenced more by its relationship management and political adeptness than its ability to deliver a tangible product or service.
IT professionals often construe political behaviour as being manipulative and unscrupulous. The consequence is either avoidance or confrontation.
Politics is often ambiguous and unpredictable. Competence in this field requires intuitive and discretionary behaviour, where there are no right answers and decisions are based on ethical and moral considerations. This territory is unfamiliar ground to many IT people and an arena for which they have had little or no preparation.
Become a political animal
The results can be that IT has little influence on business decisions or the formulation of business strategy.
IT is often unrepresented at board level, and takes the status of a service function and cost centre.
IT is held in low regard and has little credibility. And, therefore, organisations do not exploit IT to meet its full potential.
Much of the computing press has been advocating new skills for the IT manager - those based on an understanding of business, people and corporate politics. But what precisely is the skill set you need to develop?
Magic beans for IT directors
If you are an IT manager, it is probable that you are a highly intelligent person with significant cognitive (left brain) capabilities. This will have been your passport into the IT profession.
However, there is another set of capabilities that will significantly increase your chance of success. These are known as emotional (right brain) capabilities.
To develop these capabilities, you need to get in touch with your feelings and learn to be upfront about them. You must celebrate who you are, acknowledge your shortcomings and be prepared to laugh at yourself.
You must show positive emotions, such as passion, enthusiasm, sincerity, humility, integrity etc, and learn how to control disruptive emotions.
You should be open and genuinely share information - adopt collaborative rather than competitive behaviours. Value achievement for its own sake and celebrate the successes of others.
Be sensitive to others who are different from yourself - learn how to step into their world and see it from their point of view.
Learn how to build rapport, actively listen and read all the non-verbal cues.
Take an interest in non-IT matters such as current affairs, the arts, the business you work within, etc.
Develop the ability to challenge diplomatically. Be curious, expand your horizons and extend your locus of influence.
Learn how to motivate others and adopt an appropriate leadership style to meet the needs of each individual under your direction.
Become a master at networking and practice the art of brainstorming to develop alternative and creative ideas and strategies.
Gold at the top of the beanstalk
The above list may sound a tall order but the rewards are significant, including eradication of the stereotypical image of an "IT geek", the development of exceptional social skills and the ability to influence and arrive at collaborative win-win strategies.
And best of all, a less stressful and more fulfilling life.
This was first published in January 2008