Joel Jackman feels as though Paragon IT Professionals is doing its part.

Jackman, co-founder and vice president at the information technology (IT) placement firm, is running the company’s IT Leadership Forum. The forum, in its fourth year, brings together senior leaders below the chief information officer level, with a goal of helping those people become better leaders in their departments.

Jackman got the idea when a senior leader of one of Paragon’s client firms suggested a breakfast-club type of meeting for senior IT managers. Paragon turned that idea into a yearlong setup, with  monthly half-day sessions during which participants learn and discuss leadership lessons.

The general format is that one-third of the session is spent listening to a subject expert talk about a skill beyond information technology, whether it be something as leadership-specific as coaching in the moment, or more tangentially related, such as branding or security and risk management. 

The rest of the session is spent talking about the topic, with leaders sharing their own challenges and making recommendations as a peer group.

Participants pay a “nominal” fee, Jackman said, to help the company sustain the program. The goal is not to make money, but to give back to the IT community.

One issue that IT companies in Iowa have been facing is a lack of skilled workers in the state. There is a gap between open IT positions, and workers to fill those positions, industry experts say. 

Although this program doesn’t specifically aim to solve that problem, Jackman said improving an IT department’s leadership can help reduce turnover in the department. “Leadership is about building capacity in people, and I think the best leaders are good at that. This enhances that skill,” Jackman said. “People want to work for good leaders.”

The results have been satisfying so far, he said. One chief information officer even went as far as to say she had never seen as much growth from one of her employees as she saw in one year from an employee in the program.

It’s been successful enough that a similar group was formed to help young, emerging leaders in the industry. And, Jackman said, some graduates of the program are working to put together an advisory board. He sees the potential of the program to be similar to the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, but specifically for the IT world.

So far, 71 participants have either completed or are enrolled in one of the leadership programs, which run from January to December. They’ve represented 21 companies, including Principal Financial Group Inc., Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Meredith Corp. Paragon has purposely kept the size of each class small, but there could be opportunities to grow the program, Jackman said.