I spent last fall teaching a senior-level class for the MIS Department at Cal State San Marcos. This was not only an exceptional opportunity for me to learn about the next-generation of business technology leaders, but to attempt to shape their thought processes around what industry is looking for in today's technology-driven jobs.
Each week of class, I brought in a different technology leader from a variety of different industries, (including a few CIO's responsible for Fortune 1000 companies) to discuss the need for today's technology leader to not only understand the importance of technical skills, but the critical importance of interpersonal skills in the workplace. Some of the common themes that came up:
Today's IT leaders need to understand how to create a positive impact on projects. The students were shocked to hear from a number of IT leaders that came in AFTER a project failed, and what they did to turn the initiative around and/or save a project from failure. The speakers often shared their perspective on "learning in the trenches" and the need to understand the goal, but also to define the "WHY" of the project and point everyone in the same direction, regardless of independent interests or goals. The project manager is an important role for a corporation and these skills are needed by IT leaders today.
Almost every leader that came in to speak for me brought up the importance of conflict resolution skills. For a leader in today's workforce, the consistent challenge of business, the economy, and changing priorities all lead to a stressed out work environment. The ability to understand the potential for conflict and/or the ability to quickly resolve issues between people or departments is critical for the success of the IT leader. This was a common theme.
Cross-Functional Business Roles
Most IT leaders that spoke in my class had actually fulfilled different roles in their IT careers. To be more specific, these individuals worked as IT leaders AND a secondary role, typically working both jobs because they were very capable people and they were asked to do this because they were trusted in the organization. As an IT leader, this is not only a huge opportunity to grow, it provides another avenue for ongoing education into new territory in the organization.
If the IT leader can't be trusted, how do they function in an organization? Each speaker brought this very important point to their presentations in class. The trust that is built with continued success in the deployment of solutions will generate more opportunities for growth and develop the leader into a "trusted source" for business alignment and execution. This became another important aspect of the presentation from each IT leader and something they all understood.
I've had a unique experience, bringing a number of IT leaders into the classroom to share their stories, and I am planning on teaching this course again for the upcoming school year at Cal State San Marcos.