12 Rules of Being a Good Leader

Wally Nehls, CIO Consultant and Cloud Champion, ENS Group
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12 rules I have learned over the 25+ years of being the Technology Leader in multiple organizations and business sectors. 

“Our job is to make the business successful and use technology as one of the many tools in our tool belt for company success” 

1. It’s called cutting edge for a reason.

Cutting edge means that it can draw blood. Don’t risk your reputation on the newest Gadget/Software. Usually the 2nd and 3rd generation of new technology is more affordable, better documented and cheaper. The exception to this rule is if it gives the business a substantial competitive advantage. If you do use cutting edge, make sure all stakeholders understand that it is an unproven technology and all buy into that risk. I learned this the hard way with a failed PC video conferencing product.  

2. People are your best technology resource. 

I can’t emphasize this enough. Focus on the team. You're the cheerleader and coach. They do the blocking and tackling. Vary the pace of activity. You cannot drive them 100mph every day.

3. Be creative in rewarding your staff. 

Remember they are techies at heart. A new mouse or monitor goes a long way. Ask them to download some software and evaluate it for you. Doing the evaluation will feel like a free half day off for them. It makes them feel like you value their opinion.

4. Give credit to your people not you. 

Sing the praises of your staff. They will love you and work harder for you if they know that they are appreciated. Praise publicly, reprimand in private. 

5. Fire bad attitude employees. 

They are a cancer to the team. They bring others down. They are not happy with their job. Twice in my career I have been thanked by the person years later for letting them go. They were in the wrong seat on the wrong bus and did not have the courage or confidence to do something about it. 

6. Don’t hire clones of you. 

You don’t need more people with your skill set. You need people to do the things you don’t like to do, or are not good at. If you hate documenting or writing policies, hire someone good at it. People are happier when they are doing what they are good at.

7. Hire people smarter than you. 

You are only as good as your staff. I have seen many managers afraid to hire someone with better skills than them. They have to work harder to make up for the weakness of the staff. If your staff is smarter than you, they make you better and your job easier. They won’t replace you because you have done steps 2,3,4,5 & 6 and they love you.

8.The proper response if asked “I am going to tell you something, but, you cannot tell anyone” is “As long as it is legal and ethical” 

When I was working for a small public company I had done a presentation for Ford Motor Company. Afterwards, I had a board member approach me and say, “You did a great job and I want to tell you something, but you cannot tell anyone.” I said, “Yes”. He went on to explain that he and another board member were going to take the company to bankruptcy and take the technology down to Dallas and to start a new company. I did such a good job they wanted me to move to Dallas and be part of the new company. I ended up going to the chairmen of the board and explaining. I also started sending my resume out.

9. Don’t buy cheap. 

You have to support what you buy. Your reputation is on the line. It’s better in the long run to stand your ground. Explain to management the why’s. Learn selling techniques from the vendors selling to you.

10. CFO’s don’t like surprises. 

CFO’s try to plan out several years, help them. If major infrastructure refresh is coming up in a year or two, start talking about it today! Give the CFO a chance to get the money lined up for you.

11. My rules on open source. 

I love open source. I will not give any open source to anyone outside of the IT department. In my experience management just doesn't get it. Use it for servers, databases, and web servers. Don’t use it on the president's desk. If you do use it, don’t ever tell anyone it’s open source.

12. Don’t believe any vendor. 

I am not saying they are lying. I am saying they are selling. Remember that. If they say “Yes it can”. You should ask questions like “Show me”, “Is that an additional module”, “Does that require customization to do”. Once when I was CTO for a college a rogue professor went behind our back and purchased software. He then asked us to install it. He said, “The vendor said it’s easy to install.” I asked him “Did you happen to also buy the server that it needs to run on.”

As I look back, my successes are when I focused on the people and not the technology. When I put technology before people is when I struggled for success. Unless you are at a technology company, technology is not the most important aspect of our jobs. Our jobs are to make the business successful and use technology as one of the many tools in our tool belt for company success.  

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