IT directors must get over their insecurities to ensure that the senior management team reaches its potential, says Colin Beveridge.
You can usually judge a good IT director by the strength and quality of their direct reports, especially once the director has been in the post for more than 12 months.
By then the “number one” should have shaped the IT senior management team into an effective unit, capable of running things smoothly themselves with the least amount of direction and supervision.
In an ideal world, the best IT SMT should have at least two or three managers of the right calibre, ready and willing to step into the hot seat at short notice should the need, or the opportunity, arise.
And, of course, the rest of the SMT who are not yet ready for the prime role should at least be made of the right stuff and working towards the top spot, even if they still need a couple more years’ managerial experience under their belts.
So much for utopian daydreaming, reality rarely measures up.
Although to be fair, as far as individuals are concerned I have worked with and for some very good IT managers.
Nevertheless, when taken as a whole unit, in the past 25 years I have only seen one exceptionally good senior management team, whose reward for persistent excellence was to be disbanded at short notice by an apparently ungrateful business.
But that’s another story.
I want to focus on a particular cultural behaviour that too often gets in the way of building an effective IT management team: insecurity.
Of course, this is a fundamental aspect of human nature that should have very little to do with the finer nuances of managing technology successfully.
But in my experience it is a critical complicating factor and widely prevalent.
So many of us seem to spend an awful lot of our precious time, energy and money dealing with the sometimes deep-rooted personal insecurities of ourselves and our colleagues.
These behaviours manifest themselves in a variety of ways but one of the most obvious symptoms of insecurity can often be recognised by an IT management team that seems bereft of a balanced pool of natural successors to the IT director.
I honestly believe that this simple litmus test is a very powerful performance indicator because it’s usually a clear sign of an insecure IT director, desperately anxious to avoid being challenged from below.
We have to realise that such an insecure IT director will always want to be the alpha chimp at the tea party, and is therefore likely to preside over a team that may well achieve some very good short-term delivery statistics but actually offers very little long-term persistent value to the organisation. The depth and breadth of IT management potential and initiative become totally subservient to the self-preservation needs of the so-called leader.
Over time, the corporate gene pool gets shallower and shallower, thus reinforcing the insecure individual’s position while progressively weakening the organisation.
What we need to do is to foster a new breed of confident and secure IT directors whose confidence and security is firmly founded upon being completely comfortable with capable subordinates who could easily be their peers, let alone successors.
Perhaps then we can finally move beyond the Julius Caesar mentality of some IT directors, who still fear that the simple ABC of building a senior management team is all about keeping Antony, Brutus and Cassius in their place.
What do you think?
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Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at email@example.com