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How to create an open and honest IT department


joel dobbs.gifJoel 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 Executive CIO Forum where a version of this article was first published.


“In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.” --Buddha


How many times have you found that that your unwillingness to hear the truth has come back to bite you?  I have learned that lesson more than once.  Here are my top lessons for IT leaders seeking to create an environment of openness and honesty. 


Lesson 1:  When someone comes to you with bad news, check your reaction carefully.  Are you open to the facts?  Do you ask relevant questions aimed at understanding?  Or do you become angry and defensive?  If it’s the latter, your reaction is most likely out of self-preservation rather than concern for the truth.  Many times when we believe events will cast an unfavorable light on us we respond by “shooting the messenger.”  Not only is this self-destructive, it creates a culture where people become fearful about speaking out. 


Lesson 2: Surround yourself with people who are willing to tell you the truth.  “Yes” men and women have no place in your inner circle of leaders.  The staff members that I have come to value and respect the most over the years are those who were willing to tell me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. These folks ultimately saved me from myself more times than I can count!


Lesson 3: Create and cultivate a culture of openness and transparency where everyone feels free to be honest.  All employees should be comfortable in the role of protector of the organization’s reputation and integrity. 


Lesson 4: As a leader, be approachable and accessible.  If people are afraid of you or can’t get through the organizational and administrative barriers between you and everyone else, you will never hear their concerns and may find yourself blind-sided by something that could have been prevented.


None of us likes hearing bad news but bad news is something that comes with leading an organization regardless of whether large or small.  Being willing to listen, question, investigate and, if necessary, act -- are key responsibilities of every leader. Failing to do so can have disastrous consequences.


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Other guest posts by Joel Dobbs:

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Lesson 1 is so important. Foster great relationships with IT staff so they raise the flag immediately when disaster strikes. From malware and virus attacks to employee theft of data to "oops, I just deleted an important data-set".


Leading by example and open conversation avoids the classic finger pointing scenario and empowers teams to move quickly on troubleshooting and problem resolution.

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