Leaders Learn

Many years ago I worked with someone who applied for the CIO position in my company, yet they had no technical skills.  They had never programmed, built a server, or installed a network, because they had never worked in Information Technology. What they had done, was design the requirements for an Intranet project that had failed.  Mainly, because they wanted every feature, and the vendor was saying yes to anything because he needed the project’s money through his financially hard times.

The amazing thing for me in this process, was how this person was going to manage something they could not understand.  It was like someone who wanted to manage a medical research project with scientists, but they had never studied medicine, or even organic chemistry.   They had described a cure once, and in their own mind that qualified them. Now this could have been a different situation had this person kept learning through their career instead of relying on their political connections to carry them.  Continuous learning as a leader is essential.

There are number of ways that leaders today must continue to learn, and the options for learning is also changing fast. In the past most leaders read the Wall Street Journal, and perhaps a few more industry publications to stay current.  Today that is not enough, not even close to enough.

Early in my career while working in the Computer Science Center for the Department of Energy at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory,  an old timer made the statement, “I have forgotten more about computers than you know about them.”  It struck me funny at the time, because it highlighted the big gap between his knowledge and mine back then. My career was just starting, and this man was an expert after many years in the trenches.  It also highlighted another truth, most of the things he had learned about computers were now mostly irrelevant for his daily job.

Technology change is accelerating, and I love that about the computer industry. We also have to accelerate our learning.

Understanding things from the ground up is still very important in order to lead, and the more mature your career the more time and effort you must dedicate to learning, because you will need to manage more and more new technologies. Most of these technologies did not exist when you were in the trenches. Learning from Infoworld type magazines is not enough, its simply far too superficial.

Here is what I do, each day I spend some time on education.  I set goals about what I want to learn and spend time each day hammering away at something new. In the beginning I would spend time with subjects on Lynda.com, but now sites like Pluralsight.com are stepping up to add even more subjects with greater depth, as well as additional features.

You can’t manage something well that you have no knowledge about, and learning is cheap and easily obtained today.  The gaps between those who take advantage of this learning will grow bigger and faster as time goes by.

John E Tanner

Its about the people!

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