Friday, February 16, 2018

The CIO’s “Underdog Leadership” Practices at the Dawn of Digital and the “Year of Dog”

The digital world is so information-intensive and technology-savvy, IT needs will only expand, and most likely expand.

There is no doubt that IT plays a more significant role in running the modern business today. Information brings about business ideas; business ideas generate lots of information. Information Systems are the backbone and provide valuable information for key decision making. However, in many organizations, CIOs still don’t get the seat at the big table, they are perceived as tactical managers and second class executives. Therefore, to improve collaboration, gain respect, enforce transparency and amplify their leadership voice, IT leaders should ask themselves: Why is IT still perceived as a cost center? Why is IT not getting enough respect despite all good work and dedicated effort were undertaken? Why is IT always overloaded and understaffed? Why doesn’t the business invite IT leaders to engage in strategic conversations? It is the beginning of the Year of Dog, should CIOs practice “underdog leadership” at the dawn of the Digital Era as well?

To build effective underdog leadership, CIOs must learn to speak the language of the business:
A CIO needs to be a business leader first, technology leader second. The connection between IT and business lies in using the common language to help business cross that bridge to IT. The business executives including CIOs should understand that IT as a function is the business in the business and revenue generating. The faster the business management understands that IT is not just technical, but rather Business Technology, and then we will see that many companies start to have better conversations with each other and what’s more, a better understanding of how it all makes sense. A good place to start is by trying to get all parts of the business in the same process for proposing, justifying, and prioritizing. A CIO first needs to be a business leader in strategy deployment to engage the IT role and facilitate in the technologist role, and then in the technology role. Digital CIO is the person who is and has enough experience, adequate communication, and leadership skills, willingness to learn and explore the new business opportunities. IT needs to be understood and harnessed by all stakeholders to fulfill its potential and strategic importance as a differentiator of companies.

The underdog IT leaders need to practice when to say “yes,” and when to say “no,” as well as “HOW”
: IT seems to be always overloaded and understaffed. IT leaders seem to be always at the hot seat when things get wrong. IT becomes an easy excuse for being too late and above budget. Too often IT is involved too late in the decision-making process. This results in a dynamic where the business develops enthusiastically nice and shiny plans and goals and IT then has to explain why this cannot be developed and fit into the existing architecture at a reasonable investment. Often, IT leaders say 'Yes' to everything not through the heart to heart agreement, but due to the fears of uncertainties or hierarchical pressure. Though IT needs to become customer-centric, IT staff should be able to say “NO” with good reasons and provide alternative solutions to meet users’ need and create the win-win situation. A high-mature digital IT needs to understand stakeholders’ expectations and propose a service/solution portfolio that corresponds to both demand and cost drivers with a focus on business priority and building unique business competency.

The underdog IT leaders must know how to promote their organization by "selling the right things right”: To reinvent IT reputation as the business partner, IT leaders should change their image from the tech geek to a business leader with intellectual voice and creative communication skills; they can advocate IT and promote their organization as the change agent. Because CIOs are in the unique position to oversee business processes and build key capabilities. They should play the role as the “change agent,” via orchestrating people, process, and technology seamlessly. IT leaders also should know when to lead at the front, and when to follow, perform underdog leadership accordingly. IT does not always run the show and should not hold up the business and business does not own the goals and own the solution. Across the company, every department needs to work together to be successful. Organizational leaders that understand both business and IT and focuses on a shared responsibility for effective delivery of IT solutions is usually in the right position to run a highly effective digital organization.

The digital world is so information-intensive and technology-savvy, IT needs will only expand, and most likely expand. The growth mind, underdog leadership practices, and egoless adaptation are all important for improving contemporary CIO leadership maturity.


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