My 2012 Goal: Get the worst job in America

Oh, yes I did!

Are you listening, Mike Rowe? I had just about every kind of job in my early twenties. I trimmed trees, ironed shirts, pounded nails out in the snow, moved boxes from this side of the room to that side, sold my soul to a telemarketing job... You name it, I did it. Then, in the 90s, I jumped into the tech craze like John Travolta into disco pants. Straight into network engineering. Then security. Then architecture. Then finally I decided that I should move into management. Well, here it is 2012 and I'm starting the year with one goal.

My goal is to get the most hated job in America: IT Director.

That has only been my goal for a couple of days. Before I saw that article, I was gunning for one of the top 20 jobs in America: IT Director.


How can IT Director, with unusually high pay, and with a projected 17 percent growth rate by 2018, be the most hated job? The article had some ideas about that. So do I:

  • Your boss, the CIO, might be replaced, and the new guy will prefer his own yes men.
  • If he isn't replaced, he will continue to confuse priorities with "emergencies" on a daily basis.
  • You will continue to get the green light on projects after budgets have been established and deadlines set. Only then will you be asked for budgets and lead times. Then the BUs will resent you for costing too much and taking too long.
  • Your people will continue to get no credit for pulling off magical project wins because executive expectations were not managed.
  • The realization that you never want to be a CIO will become clearer and your career path will turn darker.
  • You will continue to attend meetings and produce documents that have no value because someone north of you has a whim.
  • You will continue to place significant emphasis on generating SLA metrics that prove that the company, which hates you, actually loves you.
So here's the deal: You want to be a great leader. You have a philosophy that allows you to tap the hidden potential in your people and produce great results. You are constantly honing your ability to motivate, to avoid micro managing, and to protect your folks from the stuff that's rolling downhill. But you're still an IT Director.

So if you're an IT manager with aspirations here are some questions worth asking yourself:

Can Leadership Prevail In Your Environment?

I had one peer who, when everyone else was jumping ship after an acquisition by the Borg, insisted that he wanted to stay and fight the good fight. His a sharp guy with a lot to offer and a lot invested in that environment, but he's basically mud-wrestling with pigs. By pigs I mean people who exist for the purpose of promoting themselves at others' expense--"yes men" who would rather look good than be great. What they lack in competence they make up for in maneuverability. Remember Wormtongue?

How much time do you want to spend competing with him?

Solution: Take a serious look at your company. Does it reward the results that real leadership produces, or does it reward manipulators and yes men? If the latter, don't waste three more years of your career. Else, if there is a pocket of your company that is driven by (or even susceptible to) strategy and leadership, do some great work for that VP, learn his/her business, and work yourself into that department.

Is IT Really The Place To Be Anyway?

Maybe it's time to pull the plug. I have a close friend who was a senior director and is now looking for a CTO-ish role in a smaller company. That's pretty smart. Why stay in a reactive IT department if you can do something that actually helps drive the company?
Tough choice?

Solution: Network with people who got out of IT. Learn how they did it, what mistakes they made, what they learned, whether they have any regrets, etc.

What If I Want To Stay And Make It Work?

Now we're talking. You're not going to accept defeat. You've put your heart and soul into this and you're going to see it succeed, by gum!


1. Be a leader first and foremost. Each time insanity is imposed on you, look at it as a challenge. What outcome could an ideal leader create in that situation? What ability do you lack that is preventing you from creating that outcome?

2. Eliminate distractions for yourself and your team. In order to stand your ground, you need results. Make sure that your people are working on home runs, not foul balls. Don't let the panic of the day prevent you from delivering on things that will put you beyond reproach.

3. Build relationships with the BUs. Don't wait for them to go to their SVP and for their SVP and your SVP to dream up a DOA solution. Work with the BUs to define and prioritize what they need and then go champion it with your respective bosses.

4. Start doing your boss's job. Free him up to do his boss's job. This is critical. Whether you stay or go, whether you get promoted or not, you need that experience. Moreover, give as much of your job duties to your best subordinates as possible. This will free you up to do your boss's job and it will make all of you more easily promoted, whether with your current employer or a future job.

5. Communicate. Become a master of communication. Learn how to give excellent presentations. Perfect your email communication. Develop an understanding of which communication medium is best for which people and under which circumstances. Don't fail because people were confused, overwhelmed, or starved by your communication.

6. Start writing. Keep a journal or a blog of things that you've learned. Review them and reflect on them.

As for me, I'm still optimistic that the "most hated job" in America has the potential to be immensely rewarding as a personal growth opportunity, but some positions have more to offer than others.

The fact that IT Directors "hate" their jobs, combined with the prediction of 17 percent increase in IT Director positions by 2018, says that there will be a lot of turnover during the next few years. Voluntary turnover rates could reach 2008 levels or even higher. Learn all you can, document and review what you've learned, and know when it's time to leave.

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