Thought for the day: The pursuit of excellence

To become acknowledged top performers in their field, IT leaders must do far more than just focus on getting the job done, says...

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To become acknowledged top performers in their field, IT leaders must do far more than just focus on getting the job done, says Martyn Harrow.




IT leaders face three key personal challenges. The first: to achieve top performance in getting the job done. The second: to gain recognition and credit for this top performance. The third: to win and maintain senior-level career sponsorship.

All tend to focus effort on the first challenge. But success in large organisations requires more – and many fall down by not doing enough on the other two.

The reasons vary. Some IT leaders are unaware of the second and third challenges. Some feel these challenges are outside their remit. Some find them uncomfortable. Some think they will (or should) take care of themselves.

But all evidence shows otherwise. They do not take care of themselves. So IT managers who are only job focused flounder once they rise to higher positions. At IT director level and above you need senior-level influence and credibility to be effective.  For this your contribution must be visible and you must nurture your personal sponsorship. Otherwise, your ability to perform will suffer and your career stall or derail.

In all organisations – public or private – national or international – the pressures for lower costs and higher performance are relentless. Expectations climb continuously. IT leaders face intense demands for more/quicker/better – at less cost. 

To become and stay acknowledged top performers in these circumstances IT leaders will need to raise their game. Those who are most successful will do three things. Recognise the need to address all three challenges. Develop and implement a leadership plan to perform their role in a way that does this. Continuously review and adapt this plan based on results.

But it’s not easy. There are serious pitfalls for the unwary. For example, making your plan too obvious. You may also struggle with how to develop the plan, or with finding enough time, or with maintaining sufficient perspective and objectivity.

There is also a paradox. When faced with difficult technical problems, IT leaders readily seek assistance. But when faced with difficult leadership challenges this is still rare. Yet as shown above these challenges are more complex. They require different and often less practised skills. And, if mishandled, the negative effect on both the IT leadership and their organisation is likely to be huge.

So what is the take? Well, top performers in many disciplines achieve better results by using expert help to develop and implement winning plans for themselves and their teams. The time has surely come when the most successful IT leaders will be those who do the same – to the benefit of themselves, their teams and their company. 

What do you think?

Do you have a plan of action for climbing the greasy pole?  Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Martyn Harrow provides coaching and tailored practical assistance to IT leaders and their teams. he has also worked as a chief information officer at Unilever and ICI, and before that, in the public service.

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