First things first. What should you do first as a technology leader? If you have accepted the responsibility to become a leader, you won’t lack for advice about leadership. Still, wouldn’t it be helpful to have a list of tried-and-true tips to get you off to a great start? If the answer is “yes,” then remember that the best tip is that relationship building is THE most important tip of all. We’re human beings and shaking hands, listening to the people you serve, and making connections is critical to success.
Here are a few tips from technology directors and Chief Technology Officers, as well as those gleaned from my own experience in the role.
Tip #1 – Connect with Departments
In the first few days of your leadership, contact all Central Office directors or coordinators. Make the time to meet them at their location to find out more about their goals and projects. Then hone in on what their needs are for better technology support, what their vision is, and what they would like to see technology do in the future.
Tip #2 – Connect with Campus Principals
Do the same with campus principals as you did with department directors. Walk through their building with a critical (but not negative) eye. Assess both technology infrastructure and instructional usage of technology. This will give you a sense of the technology that’s out there, what their needs are, and what they would like to see happen in the future. Strive to gain insight into what they perceive as critical. Then, begin the work of doing what you can to assist them.
Tip #3 – Prepare a Write-Up for Each Visit and Aggregate Results
Document the work the Technology Department team does, cataloging team strengths and areas of growth. Setup a OneNote notebook or a Google Site to house all your ideas, questions, and observations. This will serve as a public record of what you’re learning. A combined list of needs and wants can help you find growth possibilities. The benefits of this include a first step towards building a cohesive vision that captures the hopes and dreams of the people a CTO serves.
Tip #4 – Connect with Your Technology Team and Log Their Work
Connect with your team. It will be important to ask each what’s going on and what their responsibilities are; then ask them to develop documentation for their work. Keep Patrick Lencioni’s concept of “tyranny of competence” in mind. This is where only one person knows what they are doing and no one else. This puts that one person in a position that can cripple the district if they have to, or choose to, leave. Consider their needs and write down what they are actually responsible for. Then compare it to their job descriptions. Revise those if you need to and make sure you advocate on behalf of the staff as needed. Make a note of what could be done to improve the situation.
Tip #5 – Set Up Weekly Meetings
Set up weekly meetings between both sides of the Technology Department house. This could include the technical and instructional, or just getting technicians to work with the network engineer or database administrators. A house divided against itself cannot stand. The agenda for these meetings will flow from questions that arise from the meetings the CTO has had with department directors, principals, emails, and other contacts with customers. The focus of these meetings has to be to identify what can be accomplished as a team and how each can help the other.
Tip #6 – Establish Organizational Benchmarks
Set key metrics and assessment measures for the work of the Technology Department aligned to the school or district. Known as key performance indicators, metrics will include at a minimum a technology hardware assessment and a network connectivity and security assessment from a third party evaluator that has not done the work for the District before. These benchmark assessments can get schools rolling in the right direction, and this is the perfect time to conduct the assessments. (Did you know that TCEA offers these types of assessments at a very reasonable cost to districts? Email Dr. Bruce Ellis for a quote.)
Tip #7 – Connect with Community Members
In the spirit of making connections, one group that is often overlooked is the community. To that end, it’s important to connect with local groups like the Veterans for Foreign Wars, Kiwanis Club, Knights of Columbus, various parent booster clubs, and more. What a wonderful opportunity it can be to build relationships with these individuals before you actually try to do that district-wide iPad initiative! It’s also important to connect with CTOs from other organizations such as hospitals, utility companies, and police departments
Your Role as the Technology Leader
If you have noticed that these tips are about connecting, collaborating, and communicating, then you know how important your role is. Your job is about working with people, bringing people together and giving voice to their needs, wants, and their vision for the future. What a powerful role of service to play.