Training for Leadership and Management
More IT professionals today are stepping out of the server room and into the board room, which means their knowledge has to go beyond the technical realm and into unfamiliar territory such as management and leadership. These skills fall under the “soft” category, which, unlike hard skills such as networking and database administration, are distinguished by their indefinable nature — there is no “right” way to do leadership (though there are most assuredly wrong ways). For instance, history remembers both Genghis Kahn and George Washington as great leaders — and there’s no denying that they were, whatever their other faults — but the two obviously had very different approaches as to how they commanded their armies.
How, then, does one go about developing leadership and management skills to further one’s career? As with these talents themselves, the process of acquiring them can be admittedly hard to pin down.
Some even argue true excellence in these areas is something innate in one’s personality, and that any attempts to cultivate them where they don’t already exist in some embryonic state are a waste of time. To be sure, you could read all the books on management you could get your hands on and still not know how to effectively guide a team.
Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your leadership and management capabilities. Here are a few promising methods with which you can endeavor to enhance your aptitude in these domains and put yourself on an upward trajectory in your organization.
Give It the Old College Try
Having a four-year degree can really set you apart from the pack in the IT industry. Don’t assume that you should exclusively pursue a computer science major, either, especially if you want to be a candidate for leadership and management positions in the future. Consider getting a degree in some sort of business-related subject, as these frequently cover the most established management trends in the corporate world. Also, think about a writing- and/or speaking-intensive course of study, such as communications, English, history, philosophy and other humanities. You can still get your dose of tech in academia through a minor or double major.
That’s right: IT is not the only industry that offers certifications to its workers. Professionals on the management track can find credentials that will help them progress along their career path. One of the most well-known is the Certified Manager (CM) program, offered by the independent Institute of Certified Managers.
The CM is broken into three modules. The first is Management Skills I: Foundations of Management, which covers topics such as fundamental managerial roles and skills, entrepreneurship, diversity, ethics and social responsibility, business law and economics. Management Skills II: Planning and Organizing goes over operations management, project management, planning effective meetings, decision-making, managing teams, human resource management, and organizing work and structure. The final module, Management Skills III: Leading and Controlling, includes empowerment, motivation, time and stress management, delegating, managing change, conflict management, operations control, quality management and financial management. (For more information, see http://cob.jmu.edu/icpm.)
There are plenty of other certification and training programs out there that deal with leadership and management directly and indirectly. Do a little research online to find out a lot more.
Look for Opportunities Outside of Work
If you want to get valuable leadership and management experience, but opportunities with your employer are still a few years off, then try volunteering to serve on the board of a charity or, if you have children in school, the PTA. It will not only teach you valuable lessons about critical leadership and management skills such as diplomacy, negotiation, communication and consensus building, but it will also look great on that resume or application you send when applying for high-level job openings.