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Why the “Why” in Wolf-dom Matters Most

by Tina Nunno  |  January 9, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Happy new year everyone! I hope that you all had a wonderful new year and are enjoying the start of 2014. I’d like to begin by thanking everyone who wrote in before the holidays and asked for a stuffed wolf toy and complimentary copy of the Wolf in CIO’s Clothing book. I am happy to report that we shipped the cute little wolves to current and aspiring predators around the world. In addition to sending wolves across the United States and Canada, they have traveled to countries like Singapore and Australia, in the Asia-Pacific region. In Europe, they are now residents of the Netherlands, France, the UK and an interestingly high number going to our friends in Sweden!

Special thanks to everyone who posted an Amazon review of the book. I greatly appreciate these as do other potential readers so please keep them coming!

Some clients have told me they are placing their stuffed wolves in their offices, in other cases their young children commandeered them and I do admire starting children early on becoming a wolf-like leader! 

Darlene Taylor shared the picture below of her adorable dog Yukon enjoying the wolf he got for Christmas. Darlene, thank you for sharing this picture and I hope there are some pieces of the wolf left for Yukon to enjoy!

image (8)

 

The picture of Yukon illustrates an important point when dealing with organizational politics, the importance of “why”? The important, under-utilized question of why. Why for example, is Yukon chewing on the wolf? I take Darlene’s explanation at face value that Yukon is enjoying his toy and I am sure that this is true since she knows her dog the best.

Imagine a different dog chewing on a stuffed wolf. He may want to make sure that the wolf knows who the alpha dog is in the house and thus puts him in his place. After all, a new predator in his or her territory may be a threat to being top dog and pack hierarchy must be protected. Perhaps because I handled the wolf, it carries the scent of one of my cats and that has offended the dog who now believes it is his enemy and is dealing with it accordingly. (Let me be clear -I love dogs but travel too much to have one at home. I have cats instead and even they express their disdain at my travel schedule quite often in malicious and charming cat ways).  Before we know how to react to the image and situation, we must know the “why” behind it.

Since I have written the book, I have been approached by many individuals who have said, “I’m dealing with a certain person and I need some dark tactics. Please give me some.”  Now, I admire this sentiment and must say I have encouraged this type of solicitation. However, with each and every individual I start by asking the question, “why is the person you are dealing with behaving in this way?” Common response, “I don’t know”. Did you ask them why? “No.”

If an individual does not know the other person’s motivations or agenda, they will tend to assume that the individual is an “opponent” and on the dark side. This is a dangerous assumption. This is as dangerous as not knowing someone’s motivations and assuming they are on the light side. But recent studies indicate that when we don’t understand something or are dealing with an unfamiliar situation or individual,  we are more likely to assume they are “bad” and therefore from the dark side. 

“Why?” is the most powerful question in organizational politics. Simple. Elegant. Powerful. I encourage you to resolve in 2014 to make “why” your friend and ask it habitually. Do you know why toddlers ask “why” a million times a day and drive their parents to the point of insanity by doing so? Because they learn stuff by asking it. Many of us grew out of asking this simple question (probably because our exhausted parents understandably yelled at us during the annoying toddler phase) and thus we fail to learn the stuff we need to know to determine if we are dealing with a light or dark side player. It’s time to regress to toddler to become better at politics.

Please let me demonstrate. When confronted with someone who wants you to do a new unplanned IT project, ask them “why do you need that?” You might be pleasantly surprised and get a good answer such as, “I believe it will help us grow revenues by 15% and have the business case to prove it.” Outstanding. Alternative answer, “I just want it”. Hmmm. Bad answer. Time to go toddler. Follow up question. “Why do you want it?” Answer, “I think it will help me grow the business.” Better. “Why do you think that?”  And so on, and so forth…

Most individuals are remarkably willing to tell you their motivations, if only you will ask them. In other cases, they will not tell you the truth or the whole truth, and that is another issue for another blog post. However, if you haven’t asked someone why they want something or why they are behaving in a certain way, please ask yourself, “why haven’t I asked them and what assumptions have I made as a result that may be getting in my way?” Please ask them why.  After all, why not?  While someone might yell at you, like most toddlers, eventually, you’ll probably get what you need.

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Tina Nunno
Vice President & Distinguished Analyst
16 years at Gartner
16 years IT Industry

Tina Nunno is a research vice president in Gartner's CIO Research group based in Stamford, Connecticut. Ms. Nunno is responsible for conducting research and developing publications aimed at helping CIOs and their organizations around the world improve their performance and contribution. Read Full Bio




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