This morning, I received an email letting me know there is one active discussion on the Center for Higher Education Chief Information Office Studies group on LinkedIn. The discussion was started by Wayne Brown who is the owner of the group, and also the starter of most of its’ discussions. This particular discussion is titled “How to help with mentoring higher ed technology leaders who want to be CIOs?” Expectantly, the responses follow a familiar path – identify potential, create activity, teams, groups, networks, etc. While all of that is fine and good, what it started for me is a train of thought based on the fact that the whole discussion is off mark.
It is hard to reject the fact that within IT, there are those who would be considered technology leaders (and so potentially CIO material) and those who are not. It is also hard to reject the fact that non-technology leaders, as in those who show up to work, perform some business as usual tasks and go home, these IT workers far outnumber those considered to be technology leaders (especially since the definition of who a technology leader is, is not set and varies depending on who’s talking).
But reading the discussion, I can’t help but think that what we need to do is not cultivate this minority for the sake of granting them entry into an even smaller minority and then waiting for that brilliance to trickle down to the masses. If the complaint about these sorts of mentoring opportunities is that CIOs have so little time, and some environments are not friendly/setup/conducive to this sort of activity, then the cycle will continue to perpetuate – the technology leaders will become overburdened CIOs with little time for mentoring, leaving the next wave of technology leaders to emerge on their own, float into CIOs peripheral vision, and be granted a few mentor-ship opportunities per month. And on, and on, and on. As it were, so it’ll be. What problem does that solve?
What we need to focus on is cultivation of technology leaders from rank and file of the IT. If the CIO only has 4 hours a month to mentor someone, it needs to be a group of average performers to turn them into technology leaders. And technology leaders need to be in a position to do the same, so that more people are involved not only in trying to patch another server farm with another round of patches, or beat back the users from BYODing, but in raising the collective consciousness of the IT profession.
The CIOs also need to go back to their local universities and in those 4 hours a month work with them to shape technology education.
Maybe only then can we stop being startled by each new technology twist or turn, because when you get down to it, what we’re really startled by is not the technology itself, but the thought of having to deal with it side-by-side with IT majority. And that is a far more important problem to solve.