IT Leaders: Managing Ourselves

judgement scale and gavel in judge office

Managing ourselves can be harder than managing others. In related news, doctors and nurses make terrible patients. I’m married to a nurse, so I know this to be true. It is easy to wave it off, convinced that we are in good shape and don’t need any help.

Improving as a leader is a lifelong journey. As a leader, we are never as good as we think we are. But take heart, because we probably aren’t as bad as we think we are.

There are four things that are necessary to be a good IT leader. There are other important leadership skills, of course, but these are ones I believe are specifically helpful for IT leaders. Here is a brief explanation of the four.

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Ask The IT Director: Cantujust Dilemma

Dear IT Director,
People seem to think that IT has an “easy button”. That we can just make simple changes and slap it into production quickly. How can I respond to this nonsense?
Frustrated in Fresno

Dear Frustrated,

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Now For Sale! The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook

IT Leaders Handbook front cover

The paperback & Ebook versions of The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook is now for sale on Amazon (US, UK, Canada, etc), Barnes & Noble, and fine bookstores everywhere.

Whether you are a current IT leader or hope to lead an IT organization in the future, this book will be useful to you. This book is a collection of the scars and skills that I have earned over the years.

From The Introduction:

Organizations structure themselves, in part, to manage people (HR), money (Finance), and technology (IT). These departments understand the details of their areas and how their work contributes to the success of the organization. The Information Technology (IT) department lives at the intersection of the organization and the technological world.

It is often a thankless job. The criticisms are many. IT is too slow to roll out changes. IT is too rigid with its rules and processes. IT is too expensive. IT has a huge backlog. IT is working on the wrong things.

Or so the organization believes.

As leaders of the IT department, it is our responsibility to run the department to meet the needs of the organization. Unfortunately, even with the best of efforts, the perception of the organization never matches our own. Even worse, sometimes the perception is correct.

There are a lot of books, magazines, websites, and individual postings aimed at the IT professional. But few of them address the larger problems organizations care about. There is significant information about specific technologies, but not much on how to lead an IT department.

Since I couldn’t find such a book, I wrote it.

Monkeys Everywhere!

Be careful about taking tasks accidentally…

In the classic Harvard Business Review article Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?, William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass present the idea that tasks can be considered as monkeys sitting out our shoulder. We have to feed them and take care of them. The more tasks we have, the more monkeys on our shoulders. As leaders, we need to be very aware of our team’s monkeys and make sure they don’t jump to our shoulder.

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Advice to IT Interns

One spring a few years back, I was looking through a stack of intern resumes. Wanda (not her real name) was not selected and received an email notification. She then, to her credit, reached out and asked for feedback on her resume. Awesome move on her part. This drive to improve will take her far in her career. Here is my response to her.

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Ask The IT Director: Confusing Metrics

Spanish Car dashboard. Photo Credit: Joyce Bredesen

Dear IT Director,

I know metrics are a good thing. But metrics need goals, right? I have some metrics that don’t make any sense to have goals for. Like number of Help Desk tickets coming in. If I set a goal, it will make me and my team take the wrong kind of actions.

Waffling in Wauwatosa

Dear Waffling,

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Ask The IT Director: Trust and Teams

Dear IT Director,
I am a new manager. My team keeps coming to me with questions. They seem unable to make decisions on their own. I have too many of their tasks on my plate, and I can’t get it all done without working 16-hour days and weekends. Help!
Drowning in Delano

Dear Drowning,

Ouch, sounds like you are paying the price for a prior manager that didn’t trust their team. Changing behavior like that is hard. You need to trust that they can do the job you expect of them, and they need to trust you to provide them useful advice and guidance. The bottom line is that you are starting from scratch on the trust game. Here are some suggestions.

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Podcast: Episode 1: Spiders & Conductors

While there are lots of leadership theories and styles, this particular way of looking at leaders doesn’t show up in the books. Listen to this podcast to learn about these. What is your style?

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Spiders & Conductors

There are many books and articles about leadership; I hope you read some of them. There is no absolutely right model of leadership, so read widely and make up your own mind on what makes a good leader. This section covers something I noticed long ago about leadership styles which I haven’t seen it in any book. 

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Inbox: friend or foe

https://xkcd.com/2181/
xkcd: https://xkcd.com/2181/

If your job doesn’t fundamentally depend on your email*, then ask yourself if you control your email or if email controls you. Our Email Is A Monster (Oatmeal). Some ideas to consider:

  1. No matter how focused you are, when that little window flashes up in the corner of your screen or your phone beeps, you have at best a micro-distraction that derails your thinking and at worst a full distraction. Turn off your email notifications and schedule time during the day to open email.
  2. Signal (high priority emails) to noise (low priority emails) in your inbox is a problem. Not all emails are equally worthy of your time. If conditional formatting (like in Outlook) is available, use it. Set a condition for when you are on the CC list. Read those last. Set a condition for when you are the only one on the TO: list. Set conditions for people that you need to respond to right away.

* Customer service type jobs and a few others do require constant vigilance of an inbox so the above suggestions don’t help you. Hopefully you have other techniques to make things more efficient.