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How Stars Are Made

How Stars Are Made

Leadership development programs are demonstrably worth the effort, say CIOs who have implemented them. They end up with a staff of highly skilled employees who are steeped in the inner workings of both IT and the business

Career Planning Guide - Part 1

The CIO's guide to developing future leaders

The nature of the leadership beast means elements of leadership development plans pretty much vary by company and CIO. Some CIOs rely on mentoring programs or classroom courses; others challenge their high-potential employees with cross-departmental assignments or fast-tracking through the ranks. In a larger sense, though, the differences between the programs are inconsequential. What matters most is that CIOs have made talent-building a top priority.

The pedigree resulting from all this grooming has its costs. For CIOs, a leadership development program takes time, flexibility, forethought and patience. In short, it takes leadership from you.

But leadership development programs are demonstrably worth the effort, say CIOs who have implemented them. They end up with a staff of highly skilled employees who are steeped in the inner workings of both IT and the business. These respected IT managers extend the influence of the CIO, as they go about getting buy-in from the business side of the organization. And because they know what the business needs, these up-and-comers are poised to churn out the next killer application or product.

So, what are you doing?

The Building Blocks of Successful Leadership Development

Here are a few foundation stones necessary for any leadership development program. First things first: You can't have leadership development without support from Mahogany Row. As Cindy McCauley, a senior fellow at The Centre for Creative Leadership, puts it, many effective leadership programs start at the top and cascade down. If your CEO or CFO thinks leadership development is a waste of time and money, chances are your leadership development plans will be sunk. "Senior management support is so powerful," says McCauley, who was trained as an industrial and organizational psychologist. When the support is there, "people's bosses have had the same experiences and are using the same language", she says. And then leadership development is infectious, spreading out into the halls, cubes and conference rooms of the organization.

At the same time, CIOs must have just as much skin in the game as their CEOs. CIOs need to be role models, affirming that participating in leadership development is the only way to move ahead.

According to Jay Conger, professor of leadership studies at Claremont McKenna College, CIOs have to say explicitly what leadership behaviours are important. Rather than just lauding "teamwork", for example, CIOs should say: "The ability to surface conflict with a group and constructively resolve it" is an expected behaviour, he says. Equally important is that CIOs identify which leadership behaviours are not acceptable and make personnel decisions based on those guidelines. "You don't promote people who have bad behaviours," Conger says, such as a tendency to overwork their direct reports to the point of burnout. "They might get results, but they don't have appropriate behaviours."

Finally, CIOs should highlight the positive behaviours of high-potentials as often as possible at meetings and IT department functions. "If CIOs do it once a year, then people will think that it's not that important," Conger says.

McCauley emphasizes that companies should first do an assessment of the business need behind any proposed leadership development program. For example, some companies may feel that they don't have enough high-potential people in their pipeline, or that their leadership needs have changed - for instance, they are expanding globally and need more managers to work cross-culturally. "The more that the content of the program is focused on the business issues that they're currently facing," she says, "then the more they can see the business imperative [for creating such a program]."

Making sure you have the right people in your program is also essential. Talent development usually takes a long time - years, in fact. But leadership development takes even more effort than simply picking out someone who is technically proficient and sending them to a management class.

A person's ability to stand out - first on his own, then among a peer group - is one way to spot future leaders.

Choosing the Right Leadership Development Program

Here are more options for leadership development than any one CIO could ever need. Therefore, it's critical that CIOs choose carefully and implement programs that are best suited to the holes in their staff's skill sets and the overall company direction.

A leadership development program doesn't have to break your back, nor your training budget. "Not everything has to be a big, formal program," says McCauley.

Stretch assignments. Here an up-and-comer's mettle is tested in a task beyond his or her abilities. It could be working in a developing country; having sole responsibility for large, highly visible and strategic programs; making a white-knuckle, $150 million presentation to the MD; having P&L responsibility while running an outsourcing deal; making corporate purchases for more than $1 million; or consolidating three separate infrastructure departments into one organization.

Cross-training. At Sun Microsystems, CIO Bill Vass has designated three areas in which all of Sun's IT up-and-comers need to spend one to two years working: operations, business systems development and architecture. "They all know how to get ahead, and they gain that breadth of experience while doing it," Vass says. Every one of his 1200 staffers moves into one of two tracks: general management or technical. In the general management track, which potentially points staffers toward CIO positions, they will have three jobs in Sun IT.

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