Getting to know CIOCAN President Philippe Johnston

By: Suzanne Robicheau via ITWorld Canada

In his new podcast Leadership in the Digital Enterprise, ITWC’s CIO Jim Love asks his guests to share their own stories of leadership at a time of monumental disruption.

One of the aims of the podcast is to get listeners to know leaders like Johnston both personally and professionally. Their discussion started with a comparison of Johnston’s two leadership roles.The first episode of this new series features Philippe Johnston, Director General of the Digital Services Directorate of Transport Canada, and the other as National President of the CIO Association of Canada.

Johnston says both roles have a need to build strong relationships with key board members, really listen to them and understand what they need. “I think that’s common to both of those positions in terms of leadership,” he says.

True to the podcast’s mission of honest discourse, Love notes that one of the most important attributes of a modern leader is the ability to speak openly and honestly about challenges and even failures. Johnston agrees, noting that the only real failure is a “failure to learn from our mistakes.” Johnston rises to the challenge and tells a personal story in which he reacts badly to this situation and has learned a painful but valuable lesson.

“It’s possible I had become too confident,” he says. “It’s possible I had relaxed a little too much.” Whatever the cause, Johnston used the incident as a way to refocus his priorities and to react better to situations that might not be going his way. The end result, he says, is that his attention to professional dealings also strengthened his personal relationships. “No failure is really a failure unless you don’t learn from it and grow from it,” he says. “I took a long time to figure out how I needed to be more effective, and I have to admit that I now feel a lot better about who I am with other people, with situations, and with groups.”

Commenting on how the digital age has reshaped leadership, Johnston attributes the pace of change to the need for more flexible leaders who are able to move and make changes. He says that digital leaders need to be able to make decisions, understand how to incrementally apply them gradually, and then continually assess whether they have made the right decisions. The really tough leadership comes if a change isn’t working out and needs to be either altered or abandoned. “You have to make sure the environment within your organization – the business culture – allows you to make those types of decisions,” he says.

After learning additional lessons from decisions that did not go as planned, Johnston reports on several successes, including his leadership in developing and implementing a digital system that could protect the assets and information of the Canadian government. Although he could not share details that are secret, he explained why the project was a success. As a result, he says. “We made it happen, and today there are over 20 or 30 departments that are able to securely exchange secret information.”

In the discussion, Johnston identified robotic process automation, data science and artificial intelligence, blockchain and tools for remote work, as key technologies that will have a major impact in the coming years. Johnston also spoke of his own goals for the next few years, including continuing to lead digital transformation and digital culture at Transport Canada, and at the same time advancing digital and virtual value for members of the CIO Association of Canada.

“I really love what I’m doing right now,” he says. “I believe that the more we move forward, and the more everything is digital, the more the role of the CIO or the senior IT business leader will be critical to the success of the organization.”

As co-author of Digital Transformation in the First Person, an insider’s look at surviving and thriving in a hyper-connected world, ITWC CIO Jim Love’s new podcast focuses on real and personal discussions about leadership in the digital age. Search for the monthly podcast on on our Leadership page, in our weekly Leadership newsletter, and on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or other podcast services.