Where are Tomorrow's IT Leaders?

This week I met with some senior IT leaders to discuss my new book and the future of IT. At the end of the discussion, one of the participants expressed concern about the ability to develop future IT leaders in light of the fact that the company is outsourcing and "we aren't hiring junior IT people anymore." As I looked around the table, I realized that this organization is running on the leaders they developed five, 10, even 15 years ago, in their pre-outsourcing days. These people are getting older and looking tired. Outsourcers, not employees, are performing many of the jobs that helped build their leadership skills.

Where will this organization, and others, find their future IT leaders if not from the junior ranks?

The most obvious answer is to go where the jobs have gone and recruit from IT outsourcers and vendors. But these candidates are a mixed bag. Using Gartner's IT leadership competencies as context, it's likely that the potential candidates will have strong technical skills but equally likely that they will lack the necessary insider understanding of the business and how to exert influence and lead change. As a CIO, I admire the work ethic, drive and process discipline of consultants and I have tried on many occasions to bring them into the organization, usually with little success. Unfortunately, most lacked the ability and patience to sell-in strategies and foster motivation for change (from the inside vs. the outside), lead and grow diverse teams, and deal with the sometimes mind-numbing routine responsibilities inherent in management roles.

Even if the external hires are perfectly qualified, hiring senior level leaders from the outside has a spotty track record. Overall, leaders are built, not bought. And building leaders requires a pipeline and a process. The pipeline is fed by junior and mid-level positions and the process is one of developing leaders by positioning them in a sequence of powerful on-the-job experience. One of the most powerful ways to develop leaders is through cross boundary moves, from line to staff, from region to corporate, from Asia to the United States to South America, from manufacturing to IT to marketing. As a practical matter, cross boundary moves should start relatively early in an employee's career. Doing so not only lowers the risk (to the organization and the individual) but also opens to the doors to further cross boundary moves as the leader progresses in their career.

Outsourcing reduces the pipeline and impacts the process since it reduces the number of junior and mid-level roles and the number of positions available for on-the-job training.

Developing leaders has always been difficult. Broad based outsourcing exacerbates this difficult challenge by removing the number of rungs on the IT leadership development ladder.

There has to be a path out of this conundrum. How is your organization developing its future IT leaders?

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