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Best Leadership Strategies: IT

From a consulting pro’s notebook: What it takes to lead the technology charge.

In Jenny Cobb’s 25 years in the field of higher education, she has faced the challenges of technology development and business administration at myriad institutions—Vanderbilt (TN), Purdue (IN), the University of Georgia, and others. Along with manager- and director-level positions she held in the IT organizations at those universities, she has served on the Board of Directors for CUMREC and the Seminars on Academic Computing (SAC;, and has been a regular presenter at CUMREC and Educause ( as well as a faculty member of the Educause Management Institute and SAC’s New Directors Leadership Workshop. Her new consulting practice, J T Cobb Consulting (, facilitates strategic, business, and technology-change initiatives for colleges and universities, and gives Cobb a truly unique perspective on leadership in the higher education environment. Here, the consultant shares her Top 10 information technology leadership strategies.

10 - Tune in! What challenges face your campus constituencies?

  • Open communication lines for genuine information sharing and synergy.
  • Pay attention to what keeps academic and administrative leaders up at night and how this can influence the IT agenda.
  • Be visible as a listener.

9 - To get more from IT investments, find enterprise linkage/leverage.

  • Academic, administrative, and research functions continue to coalesce.
  • Common applications/infrastructure tools can support a wider community.
  • Use your vantage point to see how different parts of the enterprise could use common tools, applications, and even share business functions.

8 - Be ready with answers—the hard questions don’t change.

  • To wit: “What’s the ROI?” “How d'es IT support what I need to do?”
  • Have tools in place—metrics, benchmarks, dashboards, service-level
    agreements—and be ready to respond with data.

7 - Make leadership a “how” word, not a “who” word.

  • Activity-based leadership ignores hierarchical stereotypes and
    emphasizes collective task performance.
  • Everyone must be actively engaged in shaping the leadership activity.

6 - See balance between centralized/distributed IT as shifting.

  • Establish governance structures that align both models.
  • Formalize assessment methods to evaluate how you are doing business.
  • Assume change, and build in adaptive strategies.

5 - Practice juggling those crystal balls!

  • Keep one eye on social trends and one eye on technology.
  • Make scenario planning part of your strategic tool kit.
  • Gmail, anyone? 1,000MB of free storage could change ideas about e-mail.

4 - Build on what’s working, rather than obsessing over what’s not.

  • Focus on: strengths of organization, people, and campus partners.
  • Frame issues, conflicts, and setbacks to affirm the positive—then proceed.

3 - Create “emotionally intelligent” IT organizations and work units.

  • Highly functional teams are critical for the success of today’s
    complex IT projects.
  • Take time to assess where you are, and collectively visualize the ideal.
  • Create systems that sustain emotionally intelligent practices, based on current research.

2 - Don’t take personally having to constantly justify your budgets.

  • As IT costs rise, we have to look for realistic (creative?) funding strategies.
  • Make this an institutional issue, not a department issue.
  • Have a permanent business analyst and communications pro on staff.

1 - If you find yourself on a pedestal—jump!.

  • Leadership is not the monopoly of those at the top of the organization chart.
  • Orchestrate distributed leadership; leadership d'es not belong to the heroic.
  • Your IT organization should be perceived as an institutional leader.

To submit a Campus Technology ‘Top 10 Countdown,’ send your countdown and brief background/bio summary to [email protected].

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