Interview with Technical Leadership experts Brian Sutton and Robina Chatham
I was lucky enough to get a few moments with Brian and Robina to talk about their book Delivering Benefit: Technical Leadership Capabilities. Prof Brian Sutton has over 40 years’ management and leadership experience. He has developed comprehensive information systems (IS) strategies, brian-suttonconducted large-scale re-engineering initiatives and led major organisational change. His career has taken him from engineering designer to Naval Officer, IT consultant and he is now an academic. He is the author and editor of 5 books that are currently in print. He regularly contributes articles to professional journals and speaks at major professional gatherings.

He holds a Doctorate in Corporate Education a Master’s degree in Information Systems Management from the London School of Economics and has worked extensively in both the private and public sectors in Europe and the United States. He was formerly a Professor of Systems Management in the Information Resources Management College of the National Defence University in Washington DC. He was director of learning for Europe’s largest professional services training company and has also run his own learning consultancy focused on increasing the effectiveness of senior leaders. In this later capacity he worked with research and development leaders in global FMCG companies delivering programmes throughout Europe, China, the USA and Brazil.  He is currently a Professor of Learning Performance in the Business School at Middlesex University where he supervises doctoral candidates engaged in practitioner research and is programme director of a master’s programme aimed at learning and development professionals.

robina-chathamRobina qualified as both Mechanical Engineer and Neuroscientist. Her career commenced within the shipbuilding industry, where she pioneered the introduction of computing onto the shop floor.  Robina subsequently followed a career in IT, which culminated in the position of European CIO for a leading merchant bank. In 1996 Robina joined Cranfield School of Management as a Lecturer in Management Information Systems where she created the acclaimed and in some cases life changing programme – Organisational Politics and IT Management.  In 2000 Robina authored her first book “Corporate Politics for IT Managers: How to get streetwise”, published by Butterworth Heinemann. In the words of the Chief Executive of the British Computer Society “If a fraction of those who read the book do something positive with the ideas presented the state of UK plc will be for ever enriched.”

Robina now runs her own consultancy and training company and is also a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield School of Management.  Her prime focus is on helping senior managers to develop political acumen, to master the art of influencing others and hence increase their personal impact at board level. Other areas of specialism include the building of high performance teams and relationship management. In 2008 Robina was a medallist for the BSC IT industry award “IT Consultant of the Year”.  Her second book, “Changing the IT Leader’s Mindset: Time for revolution rather than evolution” was published in 2010 by IT Governance and her third book “30 Key Questions that Unlock Management: How do I...?” was published in 2012, also by IT Governance.  Her fourth book, “The Art of IT Management: Practical tools, techniques and people skills”, was published in 2015 by the BCS.  She is now currently writing a book series for the BCS under the heading of “Technical Leadership Capabilities”.

Hello Brian and Robina, thank you for stopping by Activia’s Expert Insights section. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself for our readers?

Prof Brian Sutton has over 40 years’ management and leadership experience. He is the author and editor of 5 books that are currently in print. He regularly contributes articles to professional journals and speaks at major professional gatherings.

Currently he is a Professor of Learning Performance in the Business School at Middlesex University where he supervises doctoral candidates engaged in practitioner research and is programme director of a master’s programme aimed at learning and development professionals.

Robina Chatham qualified as both Mechanical Engineer and Neuroscientist. Her career started within the shipbuilding industry, where she pioneered the introduction of computing onto the shop floor.  Robina runs her own consultancy and training company and is also a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield School of Management. Currently she is writing a book series for the BCS under the heading of “Technical Leadership Capabilities”.

What inspired you both to create a book about Technical Leadership Capabilities?

Most IT professionals who find themselves in a management position for the first time are ill prepared – they will have had little training, guidance or preparation. In addition managing a team of highly intelligent and independent thinkers makes it doubly difficult. As we have worked around the world many of our clients have asked us questions that one might have expected them to know the answer to.  The issue is the gap between knowing that and knowing how.  For example, they know that they need to give balanced and positive feedback, but they don't know how to set about doing it for someone who used to work alongside of them but for whom they are now the leader.

Who is this book aimed at and how will it help them?

This series of books is aimed at technical team leaders either who are new to their role or are intent on improving their level of performance.  In actual fact the book is of value to anyone at any level who is facing the challenge of leadership in all its forms. For some it may prove a useful refresher, for others it may fill a vital gap in their portfolio of knowledge or provide that ‘light bulb’ moment of revelation.

Leadership is a popular subject for books – what is unique about Delivering Benefit: Technical Leadership Capabilities?

It is practical - our aim is not to teach you stuff but to enable you to adapt and adopt practices that will help you develop as a professional. We came at the book from the readers perspective of ‘what you need to know/do’ as a technical leader rather than what we, the authors, want to tell/teach you.

Could you summarise Delivering Benefit: Technical Leadership Capabilities?

We do not think of benefits in terms of building spreadsheets to demonstrate a return on investment - rather we take the approach that the way to deliver benefit is to get closer to your customer and work to really understand their situated needs.  To do this you need to embed yourself in their lived experience.  Often we are not designing a product or a service but we are designing an experience. It is about people rather than process – treating people as individuals, getting under their skin so you truly understand their needs, the quality of your interactions with them and the relationships you build

What made you decided to write this book together?

deliveringbenefit-bookWe have worked together over a number of years to deliver high level leadership programmes to international companies operating around the world.  We have different but complimentary skills and styles, we like and respect each other and build upon each others thoughts and ideas. We have now written 5 books together.

Have either of you learnt anything new about leadership in the process of writing your book?

We learn new things every time we interact with one of our clients.  When we consult we learn new things about their particular context and how our ideas can fit into different contexts.  All the stories in our books are inspired by our clients, all the chapters in the books were inspired by questions we have been asked.  The best questions are those that stop us in our tracks and make us examine our basic assumptions and beliefs. Some of our themes and ideas have required further research in order to flesh them out or prove our case– this process has enhanced our own knowledge and understanding.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

If anyone has been inspired by our writing we are happy to do expert seminars, consulting assignments or one-to-one coaching. May we wish you happy bed time reading!

Brian and Robina’s book, Delivering Benefit: Technical Leadership Capabilities is available on Amazon.