IT Dictator . . .or Maybe “it Benevolent Despot”?

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You are not only the IT manager, you’re also the leader, primary advocate, mood setter, chief technologist . . . & bottle washer . . . and, of course, the chief decision maker.

You are absolutely on the hook for decisions made in your IT department, and good management balance is key. If you are too nice and leave every decision to consensus or departmental “vote” you will be, and will be viewed as, indecisive, weak, ineffective and an obstacle to getting things done. If you take the approach of total dictator, you may miss key creative input and valuable information residing in the heads of your staff that can enrich and influence your decisions.  So consider taking on the role of IT benevolent despot, i.e. an enlightened leader.  When feasible, it can be valuable to get input from your staff and/or other knowledgeable parties, but at the end of the day, the decision is yours and yours alone. The good news is that you get to call the shots. Cool!

You know you’ve got the ball, so consider the following when making decisions.

  • Be fair to your IT staff members and don’t pick favorites.

  • If appropriate, get input from your staff. This will help your technical team feel included, help them be more comfortable with the decisions you make.

  • Be respectful of your staff members’ feelings, professional/technical aspirations, abilities, limitations, and general attitude.  A contented, well-respected  IT department can add real value to the organization. This begins with you, the IT manager.

  • Consider leaving the fun decisions to team consensus, such as the location of the holiday party, or the team name when it’s “IT against Finance” in the summer softball game.

  • Make sure to do your technical and other due diligence on important decisions and document your findings. You’ll make better decisions. It will add to your personal credibility and it will help protect you if you go wrong.

  • Only make decisions that are yours to make.

  • Making decisions that should only be made by your boss can get you in trouble and put IT in a bad light.

  • Making decisions that should be made by your staff members usurps their authority, hurts IT morale, and reduces their ability to grow professionally. Back to that well-respected IT department theme!

  • In addition to all of the above, don’t make a decision based on how it makes you feel. It’s your job and obligation to make decisions based on what is best for IT and/or your company, even if it’s not always in your personal best interest. If you follow this advice, you may find that sometimes it takes real courage to do the right thing. This attitude is best summed up in the expression “Business is business”, and it’s true. As an IT executive, I once had to lay off a good friend and a good technical contributor. He understood it, but I hated it. Conversely, a CIO friend of mine had to lay me off. Even though I agreed with her decision, she hated to do it. In both of these cases, the right decision was made for IT and the business.

A new IT manager once told me that he hated to make decisions because he was afraid of being wrong. I told him two things. First, not making a decision IS a decision. It is a decision not to act. Second, if a decision needs to be made and you don’t make it, someone else will. If that someone is your boss, you have just become considerably less valuable to the IT organization. If that someone is a member of your staff, then sooner or later they may have your job and you will be looking for a new IT group to manage.

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