Moving Up the Ladder: The Toughest Lesson to Learn

So you think you want to be a manager?

Then a director?

Then continue up the ‘senior leadership’ ladder? Go for it.

IT leadership, now more than ever, is an excellent path to pursue for the, let’s say, not faint of heart. It’s a fast-paced, tough industry to manage while keeping any semblance of work/life balance (don’t get me wrong, it can be done!) and, let’s face it, there is stress. Think of your home when the internet is down. See that face? Multiply it times infinity. It’s real. It’s a challenge. And if you love challenges, what will it take for me to put you on this IT management path today?

Approximately two years ago Michael Beck, executive coach and business strategist, stated, “I did some research to find examples of CIOs who successfully transitioned into that CEO spot… and I didn’t find any.” [

A little over a year later we hear, “The CEO job has never looked more attainable to CIOs. In today’s business climate, the monster forces of social media, mobility and analytics technology are moving tectonic plates beneath traditional C-suite roles.” []

Let’s face it, we (technology leadership) are what many businesses need today – we are nimble, agile and service-oriented by design and we calmly work almost exclusively in high-stress environments. Add in recent drivers like business focus and financial acumen and many of us are ready to own it all. Couple this trend-change with a recent Gartner study identifying “CIOs as the title most responsible for driving digital innovation and change, the latest sign that the role is evolving away from a reputation for just managing back-office technologies.” [] Basically in Pretty Woman terms, “Let me give you a tip: I’m a sure thing“. The sky is the limit career path -wise for a great CIO. 

So you want to hop on and ride this wave? I’m happy to share with you the pill to swallow.

Be the scapegoat.

I remember the day I went from being a developer to being the manager. Friendships changed, they had to. To be successful I needed to focus on managing effectively and fairly. I could no longer check the ‘I have a best friend at work’ box in the annual work/life survey. Peer positions, maybe. But as a developer, I’d worked in a veritable bullpen for years. Collaboration was forced then modeled effortlessly across all levels. Although I remember that friendship realization hitting as if it were yesterday, that dramatic shift didn’t hit me as hard as the day I realized I was the scapegoat…and I needed to suck it up and be cool with it.

Newsflash: When you leave positions, others take your place. Regardless of how irreplaceable you feel you are, everyone is replaceable. You take a pivotal step to advance yourself, someone is coming in behind you. And they are attending the same meetings you did. With the same people you did. Discussing the same topics you did. From that point forward, for every negative, you are the reason it’s incomplete. You are the reason they are behind. You are the reason it’s not off the ground. Likewise, every accomplishment is thanks to ‘the new guy’. Every great idea is ‘the new guy’s idea’. Projects you’d worked on for months and left wrapped up in the office chair with a pretty red bow for ‘the new guy’, they are his accomplishments, his sweat, his tears.

Sure you get some solace from knowing that 75% of the people sitting around the table know the history and where the credit goes, but it remains unspoken except in back offices. And furthermore, it doesn’t matter to anyone. Most of all, it cannot matter to you. It’s an ego thing. It’s a principal thing. But mostly, it’s everything you need to let go of and move on to grow and succeed.

The next job, if it’s meant for you, is a snap. Technology is technology. Any industry, across genres, across seas – it’s all the same. The challenges get bigger and, if you’re like me, that’s the fun part. The tough parts involve the emotions and ‘the sadz’. Moving up and on involves missing people you care about, detaching from projects that were a part of your soul, and having your blood change from ‘previous job logo colors’ to ‘new job logo colors’.

Challenges for those of us engaged and enthralled with the ever-evolving world of technology tend to come from the craziest places. The situations that terrify others – change, automation, mobility, bandwidth, demand – tend to soothe us. While misplaced blame and unearned ownership hit us the hardest, likely because we tend in technology to work equally with our heart and minds. Regardless, make lemonade and realize the minute you become the scapegoat, you are officially on your way. Best of luck!


  1. I'm glad that I stumbled upon this post. I've been at a fellow Jesuit institution for over 5 years and I can look back at the many people who moved on and see the many times they were used as scapegoats. Reading your article, I put the two together = this is normal. I think you will find my situation interesting: for the past 5 years I have been working for the academic computing unit on campus, which was positioned under IT. Recently, they decided to move my unit out of IT and directly under Academic Affairs, while the rest of IT moved under another VP- Business and Finance. I will be assuming a new leadership role in this space. Although I am not on the path to become the CIO, I am on the path to become 'something of the like'. This blog post and many others have been helpful reading material over the past week. Thanks for sharing!


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