Strategies for maintaining IT leadership success

Give up on the idea that continuing things you have always done is going to continue your run of success.

What got you here will not keep you here.

I'm going to share with you the first of many of what I hope are insightful thoughts on being a senior IT person and how to work with the non-IT world. I don't mean to scare you. Take a deep breath. Maybe sit down.


If you are a new CIO, you may have gotten to where you are by being a dynamite project manager, by writing a heckuva good application strategy, or by really figuring out that new inventory system.

If you are a new CTO, you may have gotten to where you are by executing a data center consolidation like no one's business, by virtualizing everything that was physical and by making physical everything that was virtual, or by figuring out the perfect platform for the new millennium.

Congratulations! Take a sip of your work beverage of choice, pat yourself on the back, have a little retail therapy and download a new app, and now give up on the idea that continuing to do the things you have always done is going to continue your run of success.

The auto-reverse cassette tape player knocked out the eight-track tape player. The CD finished off the cassette. MP3s took care of CDs. Streaming is impacting electronic downloads. It seems to be the cycle of technology.  So what do you do to keep your place and avoid the dust bin?

The activities you did before might still be your responsibility, but if you focus on them personally, you are going to miss doing the other activities you should be doing. Your scope is broader. Your responsibilities are broader. Your accountability is broader. You are going to have to make sure your team is still accomplishing good work, but you are going to have to focus on much more than that.

Here is your new list of tasks:

  • Strategy
  • Team development
  • Execution
  • Financial management
  • Communication - internal
  • Communication - external

Strategy. What should we be doing? Five year plans are meaningless since if someone could predict that far ahead, he or she would have done so and would be long-since retired. Your job is to be far enough out on the planning horizon so that the sales guys know what to sell, the HR guys know whom to hire, your team knows what to do next, and the CEO can keep his/her promises to the board and the shareholders.

Team Development. Get the right people and give them what they need to be successful. I'll talk in another post about interviewing people, but suffice it to say that the right team can make you look good or can have you updating your resume.

Execution.  Do what you said you would do. This is probably what got you where you are, so you know this in your world better than I possibly could. The difference here is that you are going to manage the work more than you are going to do it.

Financial Management.  Regardless of your reporting relationship, your CEO is putting his/her good name behind making financial targets. Do your part and deliver IT on budget. Be prepared to bring a given quarter in under budget if cash is tight. Be prepared to accelerate strategic spending if there is capital available. The bottom line is to pay attention to the company's finances as well as to IT's finances.

Communications - internal.  Tell your colleagues what is going on, good and bad, so they don't have to learn about it via social media. The first topic for internal communication will be the IT strategy. Your colleagues will need to see THEIR needs in that plan. No salesperson in the history of the world has been excited about a network upgrade, but every good salesperson can tell a good story to a potential client if you communicate that the product runs 52 percent faster than the competitor's product.

Communications - external.  Don't cede the lines of customer-facing communication to non-IT people. Provide content that is relevant to your customers, and you will find that marketing and sales will give you additional outlets for it. But don't wait for them. Publish a newsletter. Tweet. Create white papers. Speak at conferences and events. Don't let this get in the way of the points above, but don't hide your successes.

You are here. Stream some music. Plan to stay here.


Copyright © Paul T. Cottey, 2015 

Originally published on on May 12, 2015.