Posted by: S R Balasubramanian
CIO career, CIO leadership qualities, CIO’s role, coordination with management, fear factor, user buy-in
The job of a CIO is a tough one. He has to do quite a bit of jugglery trying to balance various demands that are made on him. He has to engage with the CEO and the board members to understand their visions and aspirations, has to deal with various functional heads to try and resolve cross-functional issues, has to face the music when end-users are in their elements demanding more features and reports, has to handle some errant IT staff and also the technology vendors, who, at times, may play the truant. There are days when he feels happy, having achieved some goals, but bemoans his fortune when he gets caught up with issues that seem never-ending.
Besieged by difficult situations, the CIO often looks lost and forlorn. He feels like hitting back at his detractors; he wishes to argue out points, to rebut objections raised by cynical users, or to escalate matters that he thinks needs attention of higher ups.
He however stops in his tracks fearing a conflict and the possibility of annoying some important functionary in the organization. He is wary of losing whatever cooperation he receives from the users and therefore settles for a compromise. He withdraws from his aggressive intentions and accepts whatever the situation provides him with. He feels sad and powerless and wishes someone rescues him from that situation.
He says that if it was not for the fear of losing his job, he would have been bolder and would have taken a few tough measures to deal with the situation. He may then seek another job but may land up in a similar situation and may rue his luck again. But is that feel of insecurity a valid predicament or is it a perception of danger that the CIO lives with?
Possible measures to overcome this situation
There is, of course, no magic wand that can make the management and the end-users kneel before you or to listen to you without raising an eyebrow. So this is a battle that has to be faced head-on to win. We sometimes lose the battle even before it begins. By cultivating fears, we give up our efforts at resolution right in the beginning and do not even try to put up our views strongly.
It is good to be adventurous. I remember the situations when I feared the most but when I took up the case with a functional head, I was surprised to see a favorable reaction and it happened because he saw some sense in what I proposed. I have not known anyone losing his job for trying something good for the organization; so why harbor unknown fears? What if we attempt and fail – well, understand that the measure has not worked and seek another way out.
A CIO should clearly steer clear of political moves and alignments within the organization and take strength from his professional acumen. Seeking favors from the CEO or an influential senior may give some quick wins but may land him in trouble later with changing political alignments.
A CIO, like other managers, has to be employable at all times. He should therefore equip himself with contemporary knowledge and skills so that he stays effective and may also periodically assess himself in the job market to understand whether he is still relevant in the professional world. That is not to suggest that he can try a quick jump if he is not happy. It is only to give him a reassurance that he is a wanted professional and therefore does not have to live with the fear of losing his job.