The Geek Leadership Challenge
Ladies and gentlemen, the stakes in IT have never been higher, and the higher the stakes, the more critical solid leadership becomes. Please forgive me for being dramatic, but I feel as though the IT profession is under a curse. I am reminded of a man in the Bible’s Old Testament named Amos, who was not professionally trained to be a prophet but became one, just as many geeks are not professionally trained to be leaders but are put in leadership positions. Amos predicted dark days for ancient Israel, saying, “In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion—only to meet a bear. Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house—and he’s bitten by a snake” (Amos 5:19).
In the United States, President Obama’s healthcare.gov rollout is infamous for its technical glitches and delays. New York City’s payroll modernization project was cancelled after costs grew from $63 million to $700 million. The state of Texas’s seven-year, $863-million outsourcing contract with IBM was plagued by problems (Newcombe, 2014). In Britain, the BBC’s leadership was severely criticized for the failure of a 100-million-pound ($170- million) digital media initiative (Goldsmith, 2014). In Australia, a 2011 Victorian Ombudsman’s report into 10 projects found that each failed to meet expectations and added an additional $1.44 billion in costs (Clarke, 2014). Experts estimate the global cost of IT failure to be $3 trillion annually (Krigsman, 2012).
This is one angry lion that has us on the run, a tremendous problem that will not be solved without leadership. It takes leadership to inject leadership. “Attention to the time and skills required for expert collaboration and coordination is often overlooked,” says Theresa Pardo, director of the Center for Technology in Government at the University of Albany. “You need ‘super’ project managers, who have the skill-sets to ensure all actions are coordinated across multiple boundaries and are sensitive to shifting realities” (Newcombe, 2014).
As we attempt to escape the lion, we run into a bear of a problem. Few geeks have these
“super” project management and leadership skill sets. A study of over 100 project managers revealed that the most critical characteristics for effective project managers are leadership by example, vision, technical competence, decisiveness, good communication skills, and good motivation skills (Zimmerer and Yasin, 1998). Yet the majority of IT professionals are not visionary (Lounsbury et al., n.d.).
As two-thirds of IT professionals are introverts, and many introverts prefer working alone and avoiding social contact, effective communication and motivation is challenging if not impossible for these IT professionals (Institute for Management Excellence, 2003).
In the IT industry, one can be promoted into a leadership position without ever attending college or obtaining leadership training and experience. These promotions are based on skills gained on the job and credentials obtained through technical certification. With the high costs of developing and deploying technology and the ever-increasing rate of technological change, the world needs capable IT leaders to drive solution development and delivery. The industry needs to be able to lean on our technologists without fear of being bitten by a snake. We must instill confidence in our geek leaders.
Coaching front-line leaders, many of whom have never obtained leadership training, enables organizations to build leaders from the bottom up. These field commanders are in a position to aid the organization’s top leadership to develop and articulate the vision for success. They work at ground level to motivate technologists to take the actions required for technology projects to succeed. This book provides tools to address this leadership void in the IT industry.