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Inspiring The Leaders

Where can IT leaders turn for inspiration and new ideas in these times?

Lou Russell, who as president of Russell Martin & Associates Consulting Services runs IT management and leadership training programs, knows that when budgets are tight, her kind of training seminars often get cut first. She's worked with companies that used lower-cost Web-or computer-based training for leadership exercises, but advocates a group setting where possible because the feedback and interaction makes it more effective.

Many IT leaders--at many levels within the organization--still need to beef up interpersonal and other leadership skills to deal with the conflicts that today's tight economic times create. "The trouble often is that they are rewarded because they are the best technical person, not because they have good project management skills or have particularly good people skills," says Russell.

Carolyn Osborne believes that IT leaders can learn by stepping outside their traditional roles. When she was CIO for Process Energy Inc., she turned to the great outdoors for her inspiration. Osborne--who's now founder and president of GoBeyond LLC, a consulting firm in Morristown, N.J.--spent several days on an Outward Bound trip rock climbing and cliff scaling with a group of women she had never met before. Beyond recharging her mental energy, Osborne was looking to overcome her natural resistance to relying on other people. The experience, she says, helped her be more attuned to others and more willing to draw on their talents.

A recent case in point: GoBeyond works with venture-capital firms to help them decide where to invest. One VC client was looking for the perfect CEO for a company it was financing. The venture capitalist had a checklist of desired qualities, such as someone who was a seasoned executive and who had media savvy and a deep knowledge of wireless technology. "They went nine months looking for the perfect candidate," Osborne says.

She urged the VC to try a different strategy: to reevaluate the backgrounds and strengths of the would-be CEO's other top executives--the CFO, chief operating officer, and chief technical officer. She convinced them to take a different path in looking for a candidate. Because the CFO had solid wireless and telecom experience, the CEO wouldn't necessarily need that, too. Says Osborne, "The Outward Bound experience opened me up to this new way of looking at situations."

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