FRAMINGHAM, 22 MARCH 2011 - Here's a piece of advice for IT pros who are good at technology but want to become executives: Get uncomfortable.
That's an inevitable part of developing into a leader, says Larry Bonfante, the CIO of the U.S. Tennis Association whose book "Lessons in IT Transformation" is scheduled for publication later this month. (Amazon.com is taking preorders now.) So the best thing to do is start working on the skills you need, sooner rather than later.
"Put yourself in opportunities where you are forced to learn something," he says. "There's no way you can grow without being uncomfortable."
For Bonfante, that discomfort came earlier in his career when he was put in a management position over people whom he considered friends and with whom he had been a peer. "I had to find a balance between being friends and managing," he says. "Before we were colleagues. They needed to understand that they had accountability, and they couldn't slough things off. ... It's like getting married and then you learn a lot in the first couple of years how to be married," he says.
Often among IT professionals, discomfort stems from pushing themselves to develop people skills -- the lack of which might have attracted them to IT in the first place. The job could allow them to work alone, without a lot of personal contact. But to get ahead, they need to get over it, look at themselves as others see them, then work on improvements, Bonfante says.
Step 1: do an assessment of personal skills by asking managers, colleagues and clients what they think. The focus should be on their view of leadership skills needed to become an IT executive -- communication, building teams, articulating vision. Take all the answers to heart and compile a list of what people say.
That should be followed by a plan of action to acquire skills found wanting in the assessment, again using input from others. "I'm a big fan of pulling together a personal board of directors," Bonfante says. "Three to six people who you trust and respect and could help you get where you want to be," he says.
The board need not be formal or even meet together at the same time. Quarterly lunch meetings or periodic conversations over drinks will do as long as they continue regularly and there is a focused agenda. "Informal is fine, but you have to take it seriously," Bonfante says. "Most people spend more time planning their vacation than they do planning their careers."
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