CIOs: Soar like an eagle while surrounded by turkeys?

CIOs are tasked with providing digital technologies leadership on organizational transformation initiatives and are often in the middle of these massive efforts. This means that they must deal with all manner of people and with different levels of seniority within the organization. Success or failure of these initiatives can be highly dependent on the strength of character of these individuals and the values that they believe in. Throughout my own career as a CIO, I have had the opportunity to work with some very interesting people, both from a positive and negative aspect. In this regard, I have witnessed CEOs who were absolute bullies, who seemed to favour their personal business friends over good business decisions and who were caught up with their own ego to the exclusion of others. On the other hand, I have also worked with leaders who were visionary, who challenged you to be your best and who were there when you really needed their support and

From a direct report perspective, I have had the pleasure to work with staff who could be counted on in any situation, who were willing to tell you what you needed to hear versus what you wanted to hear and who were great examples of being supportive team members for the greater good of the overall organization. I have also experienced team members who were overly political, who seemed to focus almost exclusively on their own welfare and who could not be counted on to deliver to their commitments in a consistent manner.

So as CIOs face the many challenges associated with leading a digital transformation, who do they want and need on their extended team? In other words, to borrow an old phrase, are you able to soar like an eagle while surrounded by turkeys? The short answer is yes you can, but it is much more difficult. Obviously, the preference would be to always work with those people who operate at the highest level of contribution as part of a high performance team. It would be with those individuals who are core values based and who always give it their best no matter what the challenge. This high performance team would include your boss, your c-suite peers, your own team and your key third party service providers. However, that is not always the hand that you are dealt, especially for your boss and your c-suite peers.

So what do you do about it and how do we get more eagles versus turkeys on your extended team? Here are a few high level suggestions for consideration:

  1. First and foremost your own behaviour must be the top priority. Simply treating people like the way you would want to be treated with trust and respect goes a long way in establishing a conducive leadership environment for people to be able to do their best and it has to start with the you as the
  2. The second step is to ensure that your own team is set-up for success by having the right team members who are aligned with your vision and values and who are also in the right positions to be able to perform to the best of their abilities. This will undoubtedly require making some difficult decisions with short term pain but ultimately will lead to better chances of long term success.
  3. Looking for “win/win” situations with your C-suite peers and key third party service providers will help establish the right atmosphere for working productively together. When this is not possible, you can change the dynamics by switching third party service providers or attempting to work around colleagues who may not be helpful to the overall agenda.
  4. Being clear on your strategies and priorities with the CEO and how they support and enable the organization’s core agenda and then keeping him/her informed so that there are minimal negative surprises will help build a good rapport for open and honest ongoing discussions on what is working and what is not. Establishing an ongoing relationship with the Board of Directors can also help position your importance to the organization and strengthen your hand when dealing with unrealistic demands.
  5. Recognizing that sometimes walking away from situations where you cannot perform to your best due to misalignment with the CEO’s or your C-suite peers leadership style is probably better for the organization, your own long term career success and your personal health and happiness. Although the “grass may not always be greener” on the other side, some situations just cannot be fixed despite your best efforts and good intentions to do so and you would be better served to spend your energy elsewhere.

Ultimately, you are master of your own destiny. So it is your choice as to whom you will spend your valuable time with in your career. CIOs who are able to find their way to working with the more of the eagles as opposed to the turkeys, have a much better opportunity for success of their digital transformation initiatives and their own personal situation. So find those eagles to soar with and ditch the turkeys pulling you down.