IT management: How to lead an all-star team

The experience of team start-ups is the gift that keeps on giving for any IT leader

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by Stephanie Overby, CIO Executive Council — The thrill of booting up a team never gets old for Steve Finnerty, Applied Materials' vice president of IT and vendor services and a mentor in the CIO Executive Council's Pathways leadership development program. Good thing. The 40-year IT veteran and former CIO for Kraft Foods (KFT), Johnson Controls (JCI) and JM Huber has headed up no fewer than three big new teams in as many years since joining Applied Materials, the world's largest supplier of manufacturing equipment to the semiconductor, display and solar photovoltaic industries.

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The experience of team start-ups is the gift that keeps on giving for any IT leader, and not just because they will employ the associated skills over and over again as they rise through the ranks. "It forces you to establish and deepen relationships," explains Finnerty, who served as a judge for the 2010 CIO Ones to Watch awards. "If you're leading a new team, you have to develop pretty quickly a compelling vision of where you're going and a path to get there."

Initial attempts at team leadership can be eye-opening for future CIOs. Paul Capizzi always thought of himself as a people person; it was his good rapport with teammates that drew him to management. But Capizzi, SBLI USA's vice president of IT and a participant in the Council's Pathways program, learned early that being Mr. Nice Guy wasn't nearly enough to successfully lead a new group.

"My biggest mistake in the beginning was trying to make everyone happy so they would work hard," Capizzi says. "You can never make everyone happy. However, being realistic about deliverables dates, helping your team prioritize their workload and holding people accountable has helped my team develop a focused, positive mindset."

An engineer by training and temperament, Capizzi also had to let go his love of doing in favor of leading. "I have to spend more time managing my team and thinking about my budget these days than talking switches, routers and firewalls," he notes.

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