IT Leaders are Special

Apr 13, 2012

CIOUpdate Contributor

General leadership skills just don't translate into IT. There too many differences between line of business ops and what IT does. But all too often these difference are overlooked in general leadership programs.

by Marc Schiller

"Leadership is leadership. There's nothing special about IT and there's no such thing as IT leadership."

This is what I was recently told by a successful CIO of a billion-dollar plus company with a staff of more than100 full time employees. If you find yourself agreeing with this perspective, you're in good company.

Unfortunately, you're also absolutely wrong.

Hard to believe? I'll prove it. It will only take about 30 seconds.

IT (leadership) does matter 

The proof is pretty simple. Because you (I mean all you CIOs out there) say so -- albeit in a slightly indirect manner. Just take a look at the CIO Executive Council's survey and report on Best Practices for Advancing the Strategic Impact of IT and the CIO. In this study, CIOs overwhelmingly point to "the lack of depth in leadership skills of their staff" as the No. 1 impediment to their own career advancement. In other words, whatever CIOs have been doing to date to develop the leadership skills of their people clearly isn't working.

Now, if leadership is leadership, and, by extension, leadership development is leadership development, you are left with one of two sticky choices. Either IT people are freaks of nature who can't learn what everyone else can. Or, you have to face the fact that IT leadership development is indeed different from conventional leadership development. (I suppose there is a third option: that IT folks simply aren't getting any leadership development at all. But no self-respecting CIO at our roundtable wanted to go there for cover.)

Even if you're not 100 percent convinced from this simple fact, you're probably at least open to hearing why I believe IT leadership is different from general leadership.

Let's start with how we got into this mess in the first place.

Over the last few years, the term "leadership" has become the new "in" word for consultants, writers, professors and other so-called management gurus. It's no longer cool to just be a great manager. Now you have to a "leader." In fact, almost overnight everyone had to become a leader.

When the book Leadership for Dummies came out, I couldn't help but think this had all gone a bit too far. Seriously, does anyone really want to be lead by a dummy?

Combine this leadership frenzy with the desire of CIOs to get closer to, and be more like, their business-side counterparts and now, you have the ideal conditions under which otherwise smart CIOs fall prey to the idea that what they need isn't some parochial version of leadership for geeks, but rather to join the ranks of the general managers and learn their brand of general leadership.

When we look carefully at the differences between the leadership needs of IT managers vs. general managers, three key differences emerge. These differences make the strongest case for a special brand of leadership development for IT pros.

To read about these difference, please see the entire article on CIO Insight.

Marc J. Schiller, author of "The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders," is a speaker, strategic facilitator, and an advisor on the implementation of influential analytics. He splits his time between the front lines of client work and evangelizing to IT leaders and professionals about what it takes to achieve influence, respect and career success. Download a free excerpt of his book at


Tags: CIO Leadership,

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