Most IT managers started reading in the first grade. So far as I can tell, most stop shortly after they’re hired for their first full-time position.

I’m no longer surprised, but am chronically disappointed in the response when I ask members of IT leadership teams what they read to stay informed about industry developments. The usual response? Embarrassed shrugs, punctuated by acknowledgement that Gartner is their primary … make that sole source of strategic IT insights.

You’re reading this right now, which makes you an exception. On behalf of all of us who write and publish, thank you.

But if you’re in management and especially if you’re in IT management, reading is just the ante. It won’t win you the pot.

As a reader you’re aware that “Digital” has become a noun. As a regular KJR reader you know that, whether noun or adjective, Digital is about turning new technologies into new business capabilities and turning those new business capabilities into competitive advantage.

Presumably you read more than just KJR, familiarizing yourself with specific Digital technologies that seem especially promising for your company. That’s what prepares you for conversations about using them to increase marketshare, walletshare, and mindshare.

As a regular KJR reader you’re an IT leader no matter what your job title or official position on the organizational chart is. If you weren’t, your eyeballs would be elsewhere. And so, a reminder: The most important difference between a leader and an individual contributor is that individual contributors succeed. Leaders build organizations that succeed.

It might be my fault. I named this e-letter Keep the Joint Running to embody the principle that, as put forth in the KJR Manifesto, before you can be strategic you have to be competent.

Keeping the joint running is no small thing. That doesn’t mean it’s enough. It’s necessary, but it isn’t sufficient.

Reading isn’t just for management. Reading is the difference between a data warehousing team actively promoting hyperscale “schema on demand,” data-lake repositories and wondering why IT management brought in outside consultants to make them happen.

It’s the difference between developers embracing microservices architectures and saying, “This is no different from what we used to do with COBOL copylibs,” while IT management brings in outside consultants to develop new applications built on a microservices foundation.

It’s the difference between IT infrastructure management advocating replacing the company’s MPLS-based WAN with an ISP-centric connectivity model, and figuring they’re meeting their SLAs so it’s all good while the CIO brings in an IT services firm to make it happen.

So reading isn’t just important for management. It’s everyone’s tool for staying current and not slowly sliding into irrelevance.

It’s everyone’s tool, and as an IT leader it’s up to you to encourage every member of your organization to use it … to recognize that being knowledgeable matters. Maybe not quite as much as competence, but close.

What does this encouragement look like?

Here’s one possibility: With the rest of the IT leadership team, settle on a handful of promising Digital technologies and parcel out responsibility for turning “promising” into either “important” or “never mind.”

Then, each IT leadership team member involves their staff in the process. For small and medium-size IT organizations this might mean reserving two hours in everyone’s time budget for this purpose — one hour to read and one hour for discussion. The desired outcome: A briefing on the technology, that (1) defines and explains what it is; (2) lists and describes the new or enhanced business capabilities the technology might make possible; (3) assesses the technology’s maturity and market readiness; and (4) sketches an adoption roadmap that takes IT from incubation to integration.

And, by the way, once-and-done isn’t good enough. These briefs will be out of date as soon as they’re published, and new high-potential technologies are popping up all the time. Those who write the briefs are responsible for keeping them current.

Keeping track of Digital possibilities is a vital role for IT because the company’s org chart says it is. It is, that is, unless the CEO gave up on the CIO’s ability to provide this level of leadership and hired a chief digital officer to pick up the slack.

In our upcoming book, There’s No Such Thing as an IT Project, Dave Kaiser and I reserved a chapter to describe IT’s new role as business strategy leader. It’s a role that’s important for IT because a department that doesn’t know What’s Going On Out There is a department that neither receives or deserves respect from the rest of the business. It’s important for the rest of the business because …

Well if it isn’t, what’s all the fuss about Digital about?

Up here in the Northland we practice “Minnesota Nice.”

On a good day it means choosing our words so as to avoid making disagreements personal. A quintessential example, from How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor’s Guide, (Howard Mohr, Penguin Books,1987), is “Ya know, a lotta guys wouldn’t be comfortable welding a full gas tank.”

On a not so good day Minnesota Nice means passive aggression and pretending to agree while face to face, only to explain to everyone else that they just didn’t make anyone feel bad.

What it never means is how Amy Klobuchar reportedly treats her staff when no one else is looking.

No, I’m not going to take a position on Klobuchar’s candidacy. That would be out of scope for Keep the Joint Running.

But headline news can be useful for spotlighting subjects that are in KJR’s scope. And so …

Imagine HR informs you of similar complaints about a manager who reports to you. How should you evaluate the situation?

The Management Compass, discussed in depth in Leading IT: <Still> the toughest job in the world, by Yours Truly, 2011), might be a useful place to start.

The compass divides Management Relationship Management into four quadrants: North, where a manager’s manager lives; east, where relationships with colleagues and peers take center stage; west, where managers interact with those their organization serves; and south, where managers work with those who report to them. One at a time:

North: For your manager, that means you. For Klobuchar it means Minnesota’s voters, as they’re the ones who decide, once every six years, whether she keeps her job. Klobuchar beat her Republican opponent 60.3% to 36.2% in the last election — an excellent score for North.

East: Getting others to follow when you don’t have authority over them is essential to success. That’s what managing east is all about — influencing and persuading colleagues and peers. Klobuchar gets universally high marks here, as evidenced by a Politico story headlined “Republican gush over Klobuchar,” Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine, 2/11/2019).

Klobuchar excels at East.

West: There’s a difference between constituents and voters: Minnesotans who voted against Klobuchar are still her constituents.

Based on admittedly thin evidence, I’ve heard and read that Klobuchar’s office does very good work helping constituents. As the boss you don’t have to rely on thin evidence. You can find out everything you need to know about your manager’s westward-facing performance through the simple expedient of asking people.

South: Based on the reports we’ve all been reading, which appear to be quite credible, Klobuchar’s southerly performance is atrocious. The same is true for your hypothetical manager.

To say there’s no excuse for throwing things at staff members or trying to ruin their careers is, while accurate, superficial.

Based on my limited experience, both on the receiving end of several bully bosses and, I regret to admit, a short stint as an excessively excitable manager myself early in my managerial career, here’s a guess as to what’s going on: Klobuchar depends too much on self-control and not enough on maintaining perspective.

It isn’t that self-control is a bad thing. Quite the opposite, leaders and managers who can’t control themselves have little hope of controlling a large organization.

The problem is, self-control has its limits. It shouldn’t be a manager’s first line of defense against losing her temper. Better to not need it most of the time because she keeps her frustrations in perspective.

It’s better because the more situations and frustrations don’t require your self-control, the more of it you’ll have left when you do need it.

So … you have a Klobuchar-like manager reporting to you. She’s talented, driven, smart, effective, and a nightmare to report to. What do you do?

One alternative is zero tolerance, but it probably isn’t the right choice. Your manager does, after all, deliver outstanding results.

And, some abusive managers are capable of growth. They should be given the opportunity, along with the sort of encouragement that ends with the words, “or else.”

Analogies have their limits. Klobuchar isn’t a manager who reports to you, she’s campaigning to become a candidate for the POTUS.

So a closer match might be how Apple’s board of directors evaluated Steve Jobs’ performance: Given his results, he got a pass on any and all behavior that wasn’t legally actionable.

When you’re hiring new managers and deciding whether to keep those you have, you have the luxury of insisting on excellence across the management compass, calibrated to your assessment of how much each quadrant matters.

When you’re voting, your choice is starker: Unless you have ranked choice voting all you can do is decide which candidate is better.

Ideal isn’t something you can insist on.