How to Launch a Leader

Von Todd Datz

Tom Moule is climbing the rungs of Schneider's managerial ladder. He joined the IT staff six years ago as a lead technical staffer, just as the dual-track structure was being put into place. "I was focused on projects. I said to my manager, [Managing people] is what I'm interested in. Roughly six months later an opportunity came up to lead a team," he says. His career has been marked by increasing responsibility: In his first year, he managed a team of eight; now, as director of application development, he manages more than 90full-timers and about 60 contractors. He also co-chairs (along with an exec from the business side) the Transportation Steering Committee, which approves and tracks the company's transportation business unit projects - a nod to the fact that at Schneider, IT leaders are most certainly business leaders.

Of all the tasks Moule has taken on in his leadership development, he cites several presentations he's given as key learning experiences. He spoke at a Balanced Scorecard conference and at a conference sponsored by the Research Board, and he has also made presentations to Schneider's CIO, CEO and IT executives. He says the discipline of gathering information and communicating it well to an audience has been an education in itself, bolstered by coaching from various IT leaders on how to improve his technique. "Plus feedback when I've done a good job," he adds. Sometimes a pat on the back can be just as important as a "here's how you could have done this better" lecture.

Moule lists several other important benefits from the company's leadership training. They include critical-thinking skills ("being able to ask the right questions," he says); synthesizing the data he receives daily to make decisions without suffering from "analysis paralysis"; and understanding the individual skills and strengths of the people he manages and "realizing that you can't manage everyone the same way." He lists one more outcome of his management-track training: "The confidence my leadership has shown in me to give me additional responsibility and the support I need in that role, but not to micromanage me." Birds gotta fly, after all.

It should be clear to all CIOs by now that the age-old practice of promoting techies to management positions - people who would be much happier ensconced in the server room - does not bode well for the future of your IT department. "You have to realize that the IT job is not just a technical job. It's really about a third business acumen, a third technical skills and a third leadership," says Dell's Mott. "The first thing you have to do is change IT's mind-set away from thinking, The only thing I have to worry about is having technical skills. How you work with business partners and understand the business you're in takes technical skills and leadership skills. One common mistake, in my opinion, is [IT departments] don't focus on leadership until someone's been in IT a long time, 10-plus years. It's too late at that point."

In early 2002, Mott held a two-day summit called the Leadership Imperative with around 200 of his IT managers (that is, all those who manage people). Dell President and COO Kevin Rollins helped introduce the new philosophy to the IT team (the program was also rolled out in Dell's other business units). The event's main purpose was to get the managers thinking about why leadership is so important and to help them develop their people skills. This year's leadership program, called Developing Champions, was launched in January. All IT managers around the globe will complete the program by January 2004. Developing Champions focuses on building better relationships with internal business partners and gaining financial acumen around company metrics.

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