19 principles every IT leader should heed

Want to be a next-gen IT leader? Here are the most important principles for business leadership -- especially in IT

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10. You can't improve processes by introducing process improvements. Not that there's anything wrong with introducing better processes. It's just that without process managers who understand how to manage processes, even the best process design will fail. The same is true if the organization doesn't have a "process culture" -- if its employees don't think about process as "how we do things around here." And one more thing ...

11. Relationships precede process. If the people who are responsible for doing the work that's been organized into a formal process don't trust each other, the process will break. If they don't trust each other, every one of them will complain about and eventually rework the work in process that's handed to them.

12. Relationships outlive transactions. Winning isn't everything. Winning isn't the only thing. Winning is overrated. If you win a political battle and win it by alienating everyone who disagreed with you, that's the last political battle you'll ever win. Organizations are, first and foremost, collections of relationships. Keep yours healthy if you want to win more than once.

13. The three best demotivators are arrogance, disrespect, and unfairness. Want to make sure everyone who works for you does as little as possible? Here's how to make that happen.

14. The two best motivators are approval and achievement. When someone does something well, let them know you've noticed and you appreciate it. Even more important, give them the opportunity to do something important in the first place.

15. The worst two motivators are fear and money. Fear might give someone energy, but it makes them stupid. And money? If you need to bribe employees to perform, you're a lousy leader. It's worse because the money you offer for performance quickly becomes an entitlement -- part of the baseline. Then, to motivate them, you have to offer more.

16. Leadership doesn't require authority. In fact, leaders who rely on their authority are poor leaders. It's the old joke about the guy who had a dog with no legs: Every morning he took it out for a drag. Leaders who rely on their authority are like that, dragging along the people who report to them. Leaders who rely on leadership are like owners whose dogs are tugging at the leash, trying to get wherever "there" is as fast as they can.

17. Good leaders achieve results. Great leaders build organizations that achieve results. If nothing happens without the leader there to make it happen, there's something wrong.

18. If you hire people who take responsibility, you never have to hold them accountable. In fact, the whole "hold people accountable" thing is overrated. It's what you have to do if you've hired the wrong people. The right people hold themselves accountable, which is what it means to take responsibility. "Holding them accountable" usually means finding a scapegoat and punishing it -- very productive, if by "productive," you mean encouraging everyone to keep their head down and mouth shut.

19. Speaking of hiring, staffing is the most important leadership responsibility. Great employees overcome bad everything else. Bad employees overcome great everything else. Who you hire -- and what you do to encourage them to stay -- matters more than anything else a business leader might choose to do. And with that ...


I joined InfoWorld back in 1996, and for the past 17 years, it's been a good run. Between the old IS Survival Guide and Advice Line, my friends here have been kind enough to let me publish in the neighborhood of 1,500 columns and blog postings. It's been a wonderful soapbox and I'm grateful to have had it.

But I recently joined Dell as a management consultant, and my new affiliation would prevent me from offering much industry commentary. It's a conflict-of-interest thing, and in spite of our best efforts, we weren't able to find a solution.

If you like what you've read here, please feel free to sign up for my independent blog/eletter, Keep the Joint Running. You'll find the subscription page here. I hope you join me.

Either way, thanks for giving me a bit of your attention from time to time over the past 17 years here at InfoWorld.

It's been a privilege.

This story, "19 principles every IT leader should heed," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis' Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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