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By John McCormick
Current economic and geopolitical news is driving both private and public organizations to turn to their information technology departments to make them more efficient, responsive and competitive. But, as today's world crises so clearly illustrate, few efforts are successful without solid leaders.
But where do great IT leaders come from?
Well, for the last 15 years, the Society for Information Management, a national organization of CIOs and other information managers, has been preparing IT executives to become chief information officers through its Regional Leadership Forum. RLF is an intensive nine-month program held in different areas of the country that schools technology managers in everything they need to become effective CIOs—from leadership skills and problem solving, to management principles, business acumen, and ethics.
The program has grown from its humble beginnings with just a few participants into a nationally respected IT management training program.
And, says Bob Rouse, a professor of computer science at Washington University in St. Louis and the director of the RLF program, "the need for leadership has never been higher because of the changes we're seeing in the economy and because of the changes we're seeing as we move [globally]."
For any organization, he adds, "making leaders better is the path to a better firm, a better community and a more effective role in the global times."
On Sunday, Nov. 10, RLF graduated the latest class of 250 IT managers. Each received their Certificate of Graduation at a ceremony held in Orlando at the beginning of SIM's annual SIMposium conference. To date, more than 2,800 IT executives have graduated from RLF, with about 10% going on to take organizational CIO positions and another 20% taking over divisional or business unit CIO slots, according to Rouse. Graduates of the program include Kevin Campbell, CIO of Hunt Oil, a leading independent energy company; Michael Carleton, the CIO at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bill Frazer, CIO of the Americas Division of insurance company Swiss Re, and Steven Johns, the CIO at H.B. Fuller, a maker of adhesives and coating compounds.
The program has won the praise of top IT leadership experts, such as Dr. Arthur Langer, the Columbia University professor who runs the Ivy League school's executive master's degree program in Technology Management. "RLF is a first step for IT managers to get a good perspective on how to do senior project management or director-level work," he says.
Part of the program's success lies in its structure.
While there are reading lists, guest lecturers, case studies, and other education tools any graduate student would recognize, the RLF is anything but a traditional instructor-student classroom session. Instead, the goal is to engage participants in deep-dive group discussions to help them discover who they are, what faculties they possess, and how those resources can be tapped during their careers to ensure their success as CIOs.
"It's really an opportunity to discover what you need to be, in a genuine sense, as a leader. So it's attitudes, behaviors, understanding yourself well enough that you know which of the many leadership styles that you can identify works best in your hands," says Rouse. "What people learn is very personal and it's very much who they are. We work very hard to get people to understand what their mission is—their mission in life, not just their mission in leadership."
Next: RLF in the Beginning