CIOs Need To Learn How To Manage Digital Cowboys

by drjim on February 18, 2015

Digital cowboys are the next CIO management challenge

Digital cowboys are the next CIO management challenge
Image Credit: anyjazz65

In the modern IT department, CIOs are called upon to perform many different tasks. I believe that we can all agree that one of the most important of these tasks is managing and mentoring the next generation of IT leaders. Today’s new arrivals seem to be so different from when we joined the firm that a lot of us simply don’t know where to start when it comes to showing them the way.

It’s All About Social Skills

The consultant Pekka Viljakainen is the one who came up with the term “Digital Cowboys” to describe the young people who are joining our IT departments these days. I personally think that it does a good job of describing what we are working with as CIOs: young people who are very, very comfortable with digital technology.

Pekka makes the point that social media is where this new generation of IT workers live. What this means for us as the person with the CIO job is that we need to change how we manage our staff. We are going to have to take the time to discover how we can lead our teams socially.

When young people join our departments we generally put them in low level positions where they may have contact with our end customers in a support role. What this means for us is that we are going to have to start to use the social tools that are going to put us in contact with this part of our company. If we do this correctly, then we’ll be able to have a sense of what is going on in the company from those working on the front lines.

What Do CIOs Need To Do Better?

Getting better at using social media is only one part of a much bigger story. As a CIO you are going to want to be able to attract the best people to join your IT department and this is not going to be an easy thing to do. Your top-tier IT talent is going to have a number of different options and your department is just going to be one of them. How you manage your staff will have a direct role on your ability to attract the best talent.

Ultimately what you are going to have to get good at doing is leading your department. This may sound like fairly basic advice; however, you need to keep in mind that you’re not going to be able to lead anyone who doesn’t want to follow you.

What this means for you is that you’re going to need to discover what it will take to get these digital cowboys to follow you as their CIO. The answer, as always, is complicated. This generation of IT workers is going to be willing to follow you if you are able to find ways to add value to them. They’ll be willing to follow you if that by doing so they will become better or if they think that you are going to be in charge of the winning team. What this means is that you’re going to find yourself playing less of a role of a CIO and more of a role of a coach to these workers.

What Does All Of This Mean For Us?

How the person in the CIO position led the last generation of new recruits is vastly different from how today’s recruits want to be lead. The importance of information technology means that it’s going to be up to you to find ways to connect with, motivate, and lead this crop of new recruits.

Ultimately this comes down to you changing your leadership style. You are going to have to connect with your new team members in the way that they want to be connected with. This means that you are going to have to embrace social media. Use this as a tool to get your message across, not just to look “cool”. You are also going to have to find ways to make your department’s latest additions want to be led. You can make this happen if they see you as providing value to them.

Leadership and mentoring is never easy to do. However, when a CIO is trying to provide these skills to the next generation of IT workers, it sure seems to get harder because they appear to be so different from us. Take the time to use the social media tools that are now at your fingertips to make connections with your workers. Additionally, take the time to find ways to make them want to be led by you.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What steps can a CIO take in order to make the next generation of IT workers want to be led by them?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Pick up any IT trade journal and you’ll probably find an article that is telling CIOs that because of the importance of information technology they need to get a seat at the company’s planning table. In order to do this, they need to become more strategic. I think that we can all agree with this idea; however, the real challenge comes when we try to find the time to do this. Our plates are already overflowing with tasks that we have to do. How is a CIO ever going to get good at doing this strategic planning thing?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Douglas Brown March 25, 2015 at 9:49 am

Great points (and here I am so antiquated that I thought it was going to be a pitch for ITIL/ITSM). Some related posts on how exactly to use social media productively without coming off as goofy would be very useful to all.

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