JoAnn T. Hackos, PhD
CIDM Director

For two years after I completed my term as STC president, I served as chair of the nominating committee. During my tenure, I developed a philosophy of nominations. Everyone the committee nominated for every open position had to have leadership potential. Those nominated for the director-sponsor position had to be capable of becoming STC president sometime in the future.

In an article in the May 2002 edition of the Harvard Management Update, Stephen Nelson argues that companies need to think about growing leadership talent in much the same way. They need to look closely at their strategic goals, analyze the leadership skills and abilities that are needed to accomplish those goals, and run a gap analysis. The gap analysis looks at the difference between the capabilities of existing leaders and the capabilities needed to achieve the goals. If the executives identify a leadership gap, they need to take immediate action to address the problem.

Back in the early 1970s, an organization I worked for fought equal opportunity for women because, they claimed, they had people (read men) on a career path. If they had to hire more women, the established career paths might be disrupted. Made me wonder why none of the women were on “career paths.” In fact, I put a sign reading “I’m on a career path” on my desk the morning after the news came out. It did turn a few heads—but that was about all. The tradition of leaving some people out of leadership continued and probably continues today.

Corporations often view information-development managers as outside the “career path,” despite the fact that these same managers have the potential to be excellent customer-oriented leaders. So many of the members of the CIDM are superb managers, capable of vision, common sense, and leadership. They should be part of their companies’ pipeline to leadership. Wouldn’t it be exciting if a genuine technical publications leader moved into executive management? One would hope that these individuals would remember their customer focus and the importance of supporting customer knowledge growth and product usability.

Managers with information-development experience have the critical ingredients for leadership in the knowledge economy. Nelson argues that companies need people who can “lead change and handle uncertainty, leaders with greater people acumen who are committed to helping their employees become smarter and to developing leadership skills in others.”

Nelson urges senior management to articulate the leadership skills needed for success of their companies. He quotes Tom Grant, manager of executive development at Ford Motor Company. Tom believes that “‘fast learners and doers’ are more valuable than individuals” who can’t use their skills to take on new responsibilities or manage the tasks assigned to them effectively.

Given that such leadership skills are endemic to information management, why are our managers not more in the limelight? Why do they not become part of the leadership pipeline? Why are their skills and abilities ignored while individuals with nothing more than technology acumen are tapped?

I think that part of the problem is the current composition of senior management—they too often come from the technology ranks. They look for fellows with the same credentials to promote into leadership opportunities. However, the problem goes deeper and squarely into our own laps. Information-development managers are slow to promote themselves as corporate-leadership potential. Self-promotion often sounds like a bad word to the introverted types who dominate technical publications, but it need not be so. Self-promotion doesn’t mean promoting “self” alone; it means promoting the accomplishments of your team. But you cannot promote accomplishments unless they resonate with corporate strategies and goals.

In the CIDM, we have focused for four years on increasing the awareness of our manager members. That’s why we center our Best Practices conference on strategic initiatives such as customer-focused development, balanced scorecard, Six Sigma, and the FISH! philosophy. These are not so much the management fad of the hour but established methods for building value into the day-to-day activities of an organization.

A young manager recently wrote me complaining about the Best Practices conference. He found it impractical because the programs focused on subjects that were too ambitious. He wanted programs that told him how to get the work of 15 people out of the 10 remaining in his department.

In fact, it is that very attitude of focusing only on the next deadline and “getting the docs out the door” that we are working hard to overcome. It’s fine at times to keep one’s head down and focused on the next deliverable, but that is a clear path, in my viewpoint, to outsourcing, dissolution, and layoffs.

Do you have leadership potential? Do you want the opportunity to move ahead in your corporation and take on new challenges? Are you aligning your own goals with the goals spelled out in a corporate strategy? Are you preparing your own leadership pipeline so that you have good people to take over if and when you have an opportunity to move up?

Good questions—but, you ask, do I have any solutions? Find a senior executive who will serve as a mentor, even if that individual is not part of your line of direct report. Get into the leadership development program. Take training that focuses on change management and cross-system development. Noel Tichy, of the University of Michigan’s Graduate School of Business, notes that “20% of pipeline development involves leveraging formal development programs.” Don’t forget, however, that 80% involves getting the right work experiences. I’ve found that those experiences come through networking and having the right mentors.

So—get started at investigating the leadership pipeline in your organization. And remember. Once you’ve made your place in the company of strategic-minded leaders, don’t forget the value of solid customer-focused information and all those technical publications folks working hard in the trenches.

Read Nelson’s article in the Harvard Management Update, May 2002, v.7, n.5, pages 1-3.