As he entered the room, he was looking quite frustrated to say the least, and he is someone who does not feel frustrated so easily. That raised the curiosity of many in the room who have known him as the “jolly old fellow” always ready to help anyone with a smile. As someone who had been there done that with rarely a fluster it was unusual and appeared unnatural. We naturally gravitated towards him wanting to understand the load of the mountain he was carrying that bowed him down.
He was an acknowledged leader and had been a CIO for close to two decades; his business acumen, industry and domain experience was unparalleled. As a turnaround CIO he had changed IT perceptions and created delivery frameworks in many companies. Through thick and thin he portrayed himself as the savior for challenged business and IT; the image stuck and led to his enviable growth. If he ever had moments of uncertainty or felt overpowered by a situation, no one had the privilege of seeing that.
So the emotion that he displayed was alien to the group; they tentatively edged up to him to seek the reason for his annoyance. What could have flustered the first amongst equals? He looked around at the anticipation and decided to share his situation. It appeared to be an innocuous position which everyone felt should be easily resolvable. As the discussion progressed the perception slowly faded away to leave the group in an exasperated state of mind. It was as if there was no way out.
The CIO was doing well working with the business and the Board; the company had endorsed his plan and strategy including required investments. Everyone was happy with progress, direction and outcomes. He had no reason to worry or think about anything adverse happening or changing his reality. The company underwent a management change and he now had a new boss whose belief system was a contrast to the earlier culture. She challenged everything and wanted to be involved in every meeting with peers and be the gatekeeper to every communication.
She restricted access to the CEO and the Board with a view that their time is valuable and everything that goes upwards or sideways needs her endorsement. The CIO used to a free hand started feeling stifled and struggled to work within the new rules. Every presentation, communication, and meeting request needed approval; the new manager appeared to require control of everything. Other CXOs reporting into her also shared similar experiences. Individually and collectively a solution failed them.
Seeking advice from other peers and earlier managers did not reveal any new solutions. The CEO was either unaware of the discomfort of the team or did not believe that the situation warranted a change. So everyone who was being touched by her cringed and wondered how to overcome the overbearing and autocratic behavior of their new colleague. Her credentials were reasonable, the bravado and projected success larger than life. Her conviction and mannerism did not easily allow for a challenge.
Having run out of options, our CIO friend was thus wallowing in choppy seas with no straws to clutch and wondering if he should look for new opportunities. A few members of the group shared similar experiences in their respective careers where they finally found a way out on their way out. People join companies, people leave their bosses stood proven many times over. Then someone raised an interesting question. “Why not align to the new style and start working to new expectations rather than fighting them?”
It was as if that option was never considered and fight of wills was the only option. Agreed that it is a departure from the conventional and it puts a constraint on the ability of the CIO to continue to innovate, in the absence of any other avenue, this may be a model that allows progress. It had everyone wondering and as they thought deeper, the solution appeared practical though not in the best interest of the flexibility and freedom that typically CIOs enjoy. I am not sure I would choose that path, but then …
What would you do?