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CIOs: What’s holding you back? The essence of IT leadership


joel dobbs.gifBy Joel Dobbs


Joel H. Dobbs is the CEO and President of The Compass Talent Management Group LLC (CTMG), a consulting firm that assists organizations with the identification and development of key talent and with designing organizational strategies and structures to maximize their ability to compete in the business worlds of today and tomorrow. He is also an executive coach and serves as Executive in Residence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business.  Joel is also a popular and frequent contributor to the Enterprise CIO Forum where a version of this article was first published.


“The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That's the day we truly grow up.” ― John C. Maxwell


We all hold attitudes, prejudices and beliefs that, if allowed to go unchallenged, limit our effectiveness as leaders. Focusing on what we can’t do instead of what we can do constrains us in ways we cannot begin to imagine. 

So how does this play out in the life of a CIO?  Here are a few examples of how an attitude can get in the way and not let a CIO perform better.


I’m ‘just’ the IT guy.  Numerous IT executives have said these very words to me. “Just” the IT guy?  With that attitude you will set yourself up for failure.  In several instances, this was used as a convenient excuse for not doing anything involving risk or hard work.  If you see your role as a support function only then you are doomed to be treated as such and will be excluded from anything of real significance.


Playing the victim.  “We always get the blame.”  “Nobody notices when things go right, only when something goes wrong.”  We have all heard people say these things.  We may have said, or at least thought, them ourselves. Don’t fall victim to being a victim.


I have a lot of good ideas but no one will listen.  If no one is listening to your good ideas either one or more of the following must be true:


  • Your ideas really aren’t all that good;
  • You are talking to the wrong people; or,
  • You are expressing your ideas poorly


Let’s look at all three.


I recently spoke with a frustrated CIO who could not persuade his employer of the brilliance of an idea he had for a transformative software application that he believed would revolutionize his company. It was obvious that, while creative, the idea was at odds with the basic business model of his industry.  If his company implemented his idea, they would not be able to participate in the marketplace in which they compete. His idea, while creative, wasn’t good.

Who are you talking to? Are you talking with people who have the authority to actually approve the funding or implementation of your proposal or are you speaking to anyone who will listen? 


If you are talking to the right people then ask if you are expressing yourself clearly. Are you using jargon, techno-speak or, worst of all, worn out business clichés? You should be able to clearly express your idea in an “elevator pitch” format. This involves clearly describing in two minutes or less what your idea is, how and why it is beneficial to the organization.



“They” will never approve it.  I encountered the mythical “they” several years ago at a company I had recently joined.  The previous CIO had failed to make any provisions for systematically replenishing the company’s fleet of PCs.  As a result, most were 5 or more years old and wouldn’t run the current versions of most software. I was told, “They will never approve spending the money on that.”  “Who is they?” I asked.  “Finance,” one person said.  “The COO,” said another.  When I spoke to the CFO he immediately grasped the importance of keeping the fleet up to date.  The COO’s first question was, “Why haven’t we been doing that?”  It turns out that the previous CIO was afraid to ask.  The lesson here is-- don’t assume.  Ask.  You never know what is possible if you are unwilling to ask.


My point here is that focusing on the possible is infinitely more productive than focusing on everything one believes can’t be done.  It is all a matter of attitude.  As Winston Churchill said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”


Other guest posts by Joel Dobbs:

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