CIOs and Leadership in times like these…

The current economic environment demands strong leadership from all officers – and particularly from CIOs.

Employees are distracted from work, distrustful of executives and looking for solid ground in an otherwise shaky situation.  They are worried about their own skills and whether or not they will be relevant as we come out of this recession.  At the same time, this is the most critical time in corporate history to re-invest in efficiency, to get costs right and to get “ready” for an innovation upturn – a task that often calls on the CIO and their staff for heroic efforts.

It is also the most critical time for a CIO to be in-tune with his/her business which is likely to be flip-flopping on priorities looking for ways to stay afloat.  On top of this already tall order, we have yet another hyper-urgent “risk” management death march underway in response to the economic downturn and the inadequate practices revealed in its origins. And this is creating new compliance programs and “transparency” efforts which generally come with less than adequate funding and immature business “process” expertise. These efforts put further tension on balancing business priorities with the resources available to the CIO and the technology staff. And this can lead to confusion, misdirection, loss of productivity and frustration in the IT staff.

So, more than ever before, CIOs need to focus on leadership, on messaging, on clarity, and direction.  These skills are critical in staying in-tune with their staff, their colleagues and their superiors.

Of course, the use of external services of any kind is diminished at the moment.  But if there is an area to reserve some external time for, this is it. Seek out someone who can complement your skills, work with your style and help augment your blind-spots. Give yourself space to see beyond the fray and gain a broader perspective and work on engendering an infectious leadership style that will cascade down to your staff and out to your peers.  Be genuine to the situation and authentic with your feelings. Be empathetic to your people, but pragmatic and clear about commitments. Find a colleague, a peer or a CIO at another company who can hold a mirror up to you and help you ferret out your most critical leadership agenda and then clarify a plan for that work to be put into action.

The key here is that it is about leadership – which starts with developing relationships, prioritizing work, clarifying purpose, being responsive to interpretations and anticipating reactions.

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