A long time ago when I was a programmer trainee, my friend Ken <last name to remain anonymous> and I were in a company meeting. We sat together listening to a diatribe of “here’s what’s happening” from company management, which ended with “that’s how we see it”. Ken got up in from the crowd and shouted “well, that’s just great, but what you see depends a lot on where you sit, and since we don’t sit in your big offices with nice leather seats and oak desks, we in the trenches don’t quite see it that way”.
Needless to say, Ken moved on to a different job a short time later.
Many years later, as a CIO, I occasionally thought about that when I was in my corner office with the view to die for – yes, leather chair and oak desk in some cases. I think about it now, when working on our research.
When I am not writing or speaking, I read a lot of Gartner reports, from our IT1 (for the every IT practitioner), IT leaders (for management), and IT Executives (for CxOs) product lines. Two common messages often happen – usually in the popular press, but occasionally in our research:
1) The CIO is the end all and be all. Convince the CIO and you are home free. This usually translates to phrases like “the CIO should do ..”, or “ The CIO needs to..” , or “The CIO MUST…” , or, my all time favorite, “#1: Get CIO/Executive support”
2) IT drives <insert your favorite object here> to the business, or “IT needs to lead the business in…” or “IT defines processes for the business ..”
Reading these statements usually indicates a Point of View that encompasses these three premises:
Power is absolute.
Organizations are dictatorships.
IT is the center of the universe .
WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. Instead:
Power comes in two flavors: formal and informal.
Organizations are people.
IT exists at the behest of the business.
There are a lot of facets to leadership – one of the most important is taking an organization places it may not yet understand that it needs to go. But that rarely happens by fiat. Another is, like a parent, creating a space that enables excellence, success, and confidence. That’s why CxOs may come off as overbearing, overconfident, and God’s gift, when all they may be trying to do is engender a sense of commitment and consistency within the organization – while the organization still looks at options and consider alternatives. The balance of confidence versus doubt is in large part a byproduct of a CxO’s personality, and often situational.
Any good CIO will tell you that somewhere along the line their expertise in technology morphed into managing people, influencing colleagues, and convincing others. Those are critical skills. But any successful CIO keeps in mind that the three precepts I laid out above are at the core of getting things done. Attempts to cow-tow to the first three premises are wrongly motivated. I think about that whenever providing advice to our clients on how to move their initiatives forward, within the context of their business.
So perspective is important. What you see depends on where you sit. IT practitioners, those that aren’t CxOs, have more power than they think, as long as they work from the right premise, and act accordingly.