Tech Leadership & Executive Peers

by Jean Tower

In Wanted: Executive Peers, a recent post on the CIO Insight site, Frank Petersmark illuminates a real need for technology leaders (in schools, often called CIOs, CTOs, or Technology Directors) – we need other people on our executive teams who share our perspective, understand what we do, and fully appreciate our role on the executive team.

Desperately Seeking: Executive peer who understands what I do, why I do it and how I do it. Must be a good listener with the ability to provide critical yet constructive feedback and perspectives. If this sounds like you, and you work at my company, please contact me at: needapeer@cio.losingmymind.nuts.

The life of a CIO can be a lonely one. In many companies the job is less understood than any other executive position, the results are scrutinized more than for any other executive position, and to top it all off, nothing is ever really “completed” in the same sense as things are for other executive positions.”


One of the strategies that I, along with many of my colleagues in other school districts, employ to fill the gap is to network with like-minded technology leaders from other school districts. We join associations like CoSN and METAA so that we can build those relationships with colleagues outside of our school district. Those colleagues have shared perspectives and common experiences and can “provide critical yet constructive feedback” in ways that my in-district colleagues cannot. They have a deeper understanding of the challenges and characteristics of my job. So until I have executive peers in my own school district who have a deeper knowledge and a better sense of what my job entails, I rely on external peer networks pretty extensively. The network that I have built through METAA and CoSN and through twitter and linkedin – this network is my tribe. Seth Godin says, “A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” Our shared interest is managing and leading technology in schools, and of course, the myriad of small details that fit under the bigger umbrella.

According to Petersmark, “the more you understand what another team member has to grapple with to do his or her job effectively, the more you begin to trust that what the person is doing serves the common corporate good.” For that process to take place, the other administrators in my school district (my in-district tribe) need to better understand what a technology leader does, how technology projects extend far into the future, and how they (and their school, their staff, and their students) realize the benefits of money spent in the technology budget. CoSN has produced monographs explaining how important it is to have good communication between the CIO/CTO and the teaching and learning office. This article emphasizes that it goes beyond that – it explains how important it is to continually build the technology knowledge and understanding of everyone on the executive school leadership team.

Indirectly, it also explains why I and my CTO/CIO/Technology Leader colleagues find our external peer networks so compelling and useful and critical to our success. We benefit so much from interactions with our out-of-district tribe. If you are a school superintendent and you think your school and district leaders are not working hard or producing for your district if they are not in AIS mode (that’s Ass In Seat) I encourage you to think otherwise. When those technology leaders are out networking and collecting information and attending professional development and problem-solving with peers, your district reaps rewards many-fold. They are participating in a kind of shared visioning and problem-solving that they simply can’t get “back home” – they are benefiting from the expertise, experiences, and “decision-making perspectives of their peers.”

Thinking about this article and the topic reminds me that I owe a periodic thank you to my tribe – all those in my network who support me, share their knowledge, influence me, educate me, and help me grow. Thank you, tribe. This journey would be much harder without you all.


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