Seven Essential Ingredients for Leadership

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Cicco's leadership development didn't end there, though. He took courses through the Greensboro, N.C.-based Center for Creative Leadership and found ways to challenge himself on the job.

"Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations -- that's what you've got to do," he says. That means volunteering to give presentations if you hate public speaking, or initiating meetings with other managers if you tend to be an introvert.

Others give similar advice, saying that aspiring IT leaders can develop skills through mentors, coaches, classes and on-the-job experience.

Gerald W. Shields, senior vice president and CIO at insurance provider Aflac Inc. in Columbus, Ga., has made leadership development a standard affair at his company. For the past four years, he has led lunchtime sessions every Monday and Wednesday, with about 35 to 40 supervisors and managers showing up at each session to talk about books, make presentations and discuss related topics. Other organizations have made similar efforts to create a culture of leadership development.

W.W. Grainger Inc., a Lake Forest, Ill., company that supplies facilities maintenance products, recently hired Gene Kranz, a retired NASA flight director who helped save the crew of Apollo 13, to speak to about 500 IT and business workers.

Jarnail Lail, vice president of application services at the company, says such speakers inspire workers, but he adds that it takes more than one-time events to develop great leaders. "It's not one incident. It's a combination and accumulation," he says. "You have to have the desire to learn, to stretch yourself."

Leadership: Why It's Crucial

Information technology executives agree on the need for leadership ability, though they give varying reasons for why it's needed.

Jo Ann Boylan, executive vice president and CTO at Ohio Savings Bank, says IT workers need leadership to bring together teams of diverse individuals with different skills. Lt. Col. Ben Allegretti, CIO of the U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command, says IT professionals need leadership because they must guide colleagues through constant change that cuts across organizational units.

"The ability to lead is critical in IT, because more than in other areas, you manage more through influence than positional power," says Lars Rabbe, senior vice president and CIO at Yahoo Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. "So to me, the right leader is the one who can make people perform and deliver to what your commitments are, and do it in a manner that people actually enjoy doing it."

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

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