3 Secrets That Every IT Leader Needs To Know

by drjim on December 31, 2008

All IT Leaders Need To Find A Place To Practice Their Management Skills

All IT Leaders Need To Find A Place To Practice Their Management Skills

How does one become a good IT Leader? I mean really, are there college classes on this stuff? Do firms pick out a mentor for you once you get promoted to a management position? Or upon receiving a promotion to management are you allowed to view the magical book of management in which all secrets of team motivation and employee counseling are revealed? Nope.

I don’t know how things are done where you work, but all too often hard working “individual contributors” are promoted into management positions pretty much overnight. They go from having a very clear idea of what they are supposed to be doing to having absolutely no clue as to what is going on.

Some people thrive in this type of situation. I like to think of them as being the IT field’s equivalent of Weebles – they always seem to land standing up. However, for the rest of us, things are never so easy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some way for IT professionals to get management experience BEFORE they had to use it? Some sort of “lab” environment in which you could be an manager and try out different ways to manage a team in order to find out what works for you and what doesn’t?

I’ve got some good news for you – there is such a “management lab” and it’s basically free for the taking. I’ve got to be careful how I say this next part because I might lose you if you are reading this quickly – it’s not what you think it is. The answer to your quest to try out and improve you management skills is: join Toastmasters.

HOLD ON! Don’t stop reading – this is, somewhat surprisingly, not really about learning to speak in public. I’m not sure if you know what Toastmasters is, so I should explain. If you know what it is, then stay with me – there is more going on here than you may be aware of.

Toastmasters is an international organization that helps people become more competent and comfortable speaking in front of an audience. The nonprofit organization now has nearly 235,000 members in 11,700 clubs in 92 countries. Undoubtedly there is a club near where you are.

Yeah, yeah – Toastmasters is all about teaching its members how to speak effectively before groups of people. This is actually an important skill for all IT leaders to have. If you can’t address your team / department, then you are going to be at a severe disadvantage when it comes to motivating and directing your teams. However, there is a lot more to why you should join Toastmasters…

Toastmasters is organized into “clubs” that are sprinkled just about everywhere. Each club has a group of about seven elected offices who run and organize the club. From the president down to the treasure these folks are effectively running a small business. Club member dues are collected and then the money is used to run the club for the next 6 months.

Club officers have to deal with staffing issues, securing locations for meetings, retaining club members, motivating members to reach goals, and basically keeping everyone in line. Oh, there is one additional point – nobody “works” for Toastmasters at the club level. Instead, everyone is a volunteer. This means that management by force (“do it or I’ll fire you”) won’t work. Toastmaster officers need to find ways to motivate people to do things for them.

On a third level, each Toastmasters meeting is run by a rotating club member. This person is responsible for the entire meeting – picking a location, scheduling speakers, filling meeting specific duty roles, and making sure that everything stays on time. This is just like a standard business meeting except that nobody works for anyone else so once again motivation is the key to success.

In the end, Toastmasters operates on three different levels: teaching public speaking skills, club management training, and how to run successful meetings. All of this is available to you for about $30 every 6 months.

So what happens if you join, get a leadership position, and then proceed to screw it up? Nothing. What will probably happen is that other club members who have have had the position that you are in will step in and (1) tell you what you’ve done wrong, and (2) help you to correct it. That’s it – nobody gets “fired”.

Now if you screw up your new IT management position, I can’t say that you won’t get fired. Perhaps it’s time to check out Toastmasters and see if it can help you to become the successful IT leader that we all know that you can be…?

Have you ever attended a Toastmasters meeting? Did everything seem to flow smoothly – was there clearly someone in charge? How are you expecting to improve your management skills without Toastmasters? Does your firm have some managers that you think should probably join Toastmasters to improve their management skills? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven Williams August 4, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Great post, Jim! Thank you for sharing this article. I recently joined Toastmasters to work on how I present myself and my ideas, as well as growing in my leadership ability.

Regardless of our position in an organization, we all have leadership responsibilities; whether we realize them or not. Toastmasters provides an opportunity to exercise your leadership “muscles” in a forgiving and supportive setting. Almost everything you do at a Toastmasters meeting is evaluated by other members, so you get immediate feedback — feedback that will not cost you your job.

Communicating ideas effectively is also an important skill in leadership. If those that a leader is attempting to lead are not getting the message as intended, it is likely the leader failed somehow in communicating their message.

Becoming active in a Toastmasters club is a great way to improve in these areas. Do not be afraid to jump in with both feet! Take on leadership roles early and deliver your “Ice Breaker” speech at your earliest opportunity. Everyone there will be supportive and give you great feedback! The only regret will be that you did not join Toastmasters sooner.

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Dr. Jim Anderson August 7, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Steven: One way that I like to look at it is that our careers will last for about 45 years. No other IT skill will last our entire career like developing the ability to speak in public will. Congrats on joining Toastmasters – it’ll be one of the best decisions that you’ll ever make…!

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