Saturday, February 15, 2014

CIO as Chief Inquisitiveness Officer: Can, Shall or How CIOs Say “I Don’t Know”

CIOs need to have confidence, candor, and professional humility as well!


At the industrial age, managers or leaders seem to be expected to have all answers, now businesses are moving to digital era with "VUCA" characteristics (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), although there’s mountain of data, and information is only a few clicks away, indeed, in many circumstances, finding an answer to a complex problem takes collective insight and collaborative effort. So, as senior level business executive, can, shall or how CIOs say “I don’t know”? How does someone in the highly visible position such as CIOs say "I don’t know" about key business issue or technology problems without compromising his/her authority, career and influence?


Being authentic and present provides you with credibility: It is okay to say you do not know something. CIOs are human and can not possibly know everything. If you report to someone who is a true leader, they will understand and condone you for being understanding. "I don't know" follows with "I will find out." It is totally fair not to know something at an instant, but to be able to research it and find the proper solution. That is usually an acceptable answer to the board of directors, peer group, staff and customers. A CIO is as much a human being as anyone else; therefore he/she is not knowing-all, especially many questions CIOs being asked are at strategic level, it takes time to find comprehensive and multi-layered answers.  

It is up to the CIO to use available or new resources to get the required answer: All too often, managers try to answer questions for the sake of doing so. After making the statement, you should connect it with how you are going to go about finding the answer. A CIO needs to be learning agile and anticipate the needs of the business. Always clarify the question. The important thing is to respond accurately and in a timely fashion or you'll lose credibility fast. So the question is not whether CIO knows (or not) about an issue in any scenario. It is about accountability, that's what a manager should demonstrate.

CIOs should be aware of the key issues: This depends on the management he/she does with IT. He/She should be aware of what is the progress of various key initiatives and should be knowing the key issues within IT. Similarly, CIOs should be able to make the relationship at peer level in other departments so that he/she has knowledge of key business issues as well being member of the senior management and should be able to give his/her opinion/solution if being asked. In a discussion with business executive peers, they will typically not be interested in how this is done, but what, when to be done and who will do it. And, once the CIO has confirmed that it can be achieved, he/she will need to be able to inform senior executive teams upon certain business estimations such as, how much it will cost, how long it will take to deliver and who will need to be involved in its delivery. These are the issues that a CIO needs to keep aware of.

Build the network of trusted advisers: It is inevitable that "I don't know" will come up over time and having a network of trusted advisers to go to is invaluable. It would be also wise to build some routine mechanisms within your staff, and your own personal/ professional learning habits, to get "in the know" on a more regular basis. And in many circumstances, the questions that need to be asked or answered in connection with strategy are complex and multi-layered, they are unlikely to be answered in an instant, but always be proactive to find the answers. The important thing is taking on the responsibility of generating a thoughtful dialogue for speculation, exploration and resolution when they don't know.

CIOs need to have confidence, candor, and professional humility as well: Especially for the new or ‘unconventional’ leaders, the challenge is perhaps how to build the trust by overcoming the potential ‘biased’ perception, to strike the right balance of confidence and humility. Confidence, candor and professional humility are important attributes a CIO must cultivate for himself/herself, and inculcate in the IT staff. These foundational characteristics tend to create an environment of near-obsessive inquisitiveness, rigor and discipline in getting necessary technology and business details to make good decisions, and a working climate of sharing and collaboration. Self confidence helps, a lot: When one is sure of oneself and knows where to get a good answer in adequate time, he/she can and in fact should tell "I don't know, but I am going to find out". Nobody knows all things, even those pertaining to one's job, particularly on a function when NEW is a key word and happens all the time. On the other side, humility is the bedrock of all healthy and strong relationships, and consequently trustworthiness, authority and influence follow.

Today’s CIOs are Chief Inquisitive Officers: they are the executives who need to shape more right questions, perhaps more than some single-minded answers. Because in today's complex marketplace, leaders do need have complexity and systematic mindset, lead by questioning, there will always be times when some research is needed. If that is presented intelligently, with confidence, and as a sign of strength and not weakness, the outcome can only be positive, to present the triple As of modern leadership: Altitude, Attitude and Aptitude.






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