Raytheon CIO: Continuous learning starts with IT leaders

Because disruption is the new normal, IT leaders must nurture a culture of continuous learning. Are you transforming your own leadership skills and style?
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Disruption is the new constant in IT, and maneuvering this state is a challenge for everyone—particularly for those of us with decades of experience.

We’re all using different technologies, different workflows, different models, and leading differently today than we were just five to seven years ago. 

[ See our related story, Why IT teams must stop shooting for all A's, by Kevin Neifert. ]

In order to be an effective leader, you must have the ability to apply judgment in the domain you are leading. And, as we all know, judgment comes from experience. Because the new normal in IT is disruption, IT leaders need to find ways to get experience in new technologies.

Lead by example

Teaching is one of the best ways to hone your new skills, which in turn hones your judgement.

Like many IT organizations, Raytheon is embarking on a pretty significant Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) implementation. I knew that to lead effectively, I needed to take SAFe training. I had a couple of different training options. One was a shorter course intended for executives, while the other was more in-depth and intended for professionals implementing SAFe. I chose the latter option because I knew that if I didn’t understand the SAFe business processes at the working level, I wouldn’t be able to make judgement calls. For me, taking that step back was necessary.

Striving to be an effective leader in an era of disruption also meant taking continuous learning to the next level. To do this, I applied some of the SAFe practices to the way I worked with my leadership team and actually engaged in the SAFe courses that we offer internally. 

Not only did these actions demonstrate my commitment to SAFe, it demonstrated that I’m striving to get real, hands-on experience. It indicated to others that I’m onboard with this – literally teaching it and preaching it – and that they should climb onboard, too. Teaching is one of the best ways to hone your new skills, which in turn hones your judgement.

Better elevator chats

While I can’t underscore enough the value of learning as a leader, it’s equally important to inspire life-long learning among your team members. People have come to expect that if they run into me in the hall or elevator, I might ask them about a recent learning experience. It doesn’t have to be limited to IT, but the expectation is that they are continuously trying to learn and grow. I’ll often share something new I’ve learned as well as a way to reinforce behavior.

Disruption in the IT industry has changed modern-day leadership. It’s highlighted the importance of leaders aligning behaviors with the values we espouse, which sometimes means stepping back to learn something from the ground up. We need to recognize the value of continuously transforming ourselves, the technology choices we make, and the work we do. 

[ Why is adaptability the new power skill? Read our new report from HBR Analytic Services: Transformation Masters: The New Rules of CIO Leadership ]

Kevin Neifert is chief information officer for Thales North America. Previously he was the CIO of Raytheon, where he spent 14 years in a variety of information technology, engineering and program management roles.