Facing A Crisis of Leadership
In 2002 I wrote an article, “A Case of Leadership Deficit Disorder,” which was motivated by a report claiming that more than $130 billion was spent on needless software technologies between 2000 and 2001.
Now, in 2010, in the midst of yet another economic crisis, I find myself asking why there are so many failures in IT, especially when implementing ERP, CRM and other technology initiatives that affect organizations. My answer now is the same as it was in 2002: “leadership deficit disorder” (LDD) and its cousin, “competency deficit disorder” (CDD).
During the 1990s, it appeared that the CIO was destined to play a role on the company’s leadership team. But somewhere along the way, the CIO reverted to the role of the organization’s head “technogeek,” thereby validating all the stereotypical demonization that has plagued IT for more than 40 years.
As I said in my 2002 rant, LDD happens when CIOs and their teams lose their road map for aligning IT to the needs of the organization’s stakeholders. It happens when IT’s focus turns away from delivering value and turns toward pursuing technologies as a response to upper management’s obsession with cost control and next quarter’s profits.
In a way, LDD invariably leads to CDD: the inability to perform the job for which one is hired. The primary job of an organization’s leadership is to deliver stakeholder-balanced, continual and sustainable growth and prosperity. The failure of the leadership to keep the organization focused on achieving this goal is a sign of its incompetence.
Bad times befall even the best-run companies. However, when the CIO adopts nonaligned corrective courses of action, LDD and CDD should be considered as reasons for failure. Examples of nonstrategic courses of action include:
• A move to cloud computing that’s driven by the need to reduce costs rather than by a desire to improve IT’s ability to leverage growth
• Restructuring without changing the players—simply shuffling the deck
• Decentralizing or centralizing, whichever wasn’t done the time before.
• Any knee-jerk reaction that focuses on cost-centric or nonvalue-added improvement initiatives is nonstrategic and deserves scrutiny.
When CEOs express their disappointment about the effectiveness of their technology investments, they are taking direct aim at the company’s IT leadership.
Most CIOs are well-compensated and are expected to be skilled at leading their organizations through stormy waters as well as calm ones. But, in many instances, CIOs have lost the ability to leave their technological ivory towers and become operationally nuts-and-bolts focused. Whether it’s understanding and defining clear, measurable business objectives, creating compelling visions or being savvy about new technologies, many CIOs are falling short—and it’s not going unnoticed.
Why is this happening? I believe that part of the answer comes from a misconception among CIOs that technology is as important as the organization it is supposed to support.
What is needed is a renaissance or leadership enlightenment that helps aspiring IT leaders understand that technology is meaningless unless it’s deployed in the context of the organization’s needs.
CIOs and their teams need to become more people-focused; appreciating the interpersonal dynamics that are in constant play throughout the enterprise. If they want a seat at the leadership table, CIOs need to understand that—above all else—they are businesspeople who are versed in how to deploy technology in a way that fosters greater productivity and growth for the organization and its stakeholders.
Technology leaders need to base IT’s strategic objectives on the enterprise’s objectives, and in that context find ways to:
• align initiatives to strategic objectives
• deliver projects successfully
• drive cost out of core operations through optimization of business processes.
CIOs must learn how to motivate their team to embrace IT’s role in the enterprise in a way that evokes a productive and proactive attitude toward the organization and its owners, employees, customers and other constituents. Short of this, we face yet another dismal decade of CIO leadership deficit disorder.
Michael R. Wood is the creator of the Lean Businesses Process Improvement methodology known as The Helix Methodology. Throughout his 30-plus year career, he has served as a CIO, educator, CPA, author, facilitator and advisor to a host of industries.