Monday, June 29, 2015

CIOs need professional courtesy as a basic tenet

This one has been a long time coming though never made it to the top; and then an event triggered the compilation of thoughts which has experiences spread across multiple incidents collated over the not too distant past. It is an interesting observation made by minions as well as leaders on success and/or position (mostly latter, read hierarchy, corner room, and trappings of power) going to the head. Does this give a person the freedom and permission to be unprofessional, rude, disrespectful, insensitive, or simply put misbehave ?

1.      It was a high power meeting if there was one; CEOs from various group companies, corporate heads had been brought together for a common cause and objective driven by a globally respected research and consulting company. They had all assembled to listen to thought leadership that potentially could help them be the disruptor rather than be disrupted with innovation and new business models. The partner had put significant time, money and effort to ensure that the session connects with business leaders and their expectations.
Welcoming the arriving party, the CIO suddenly froze with disbelief seeing two senior ex-CIOs and now advisors to multiple entities as part of the group. Both had put in time in the industry – collectively almost 70 years – and were known to be the “go-to-persons” for any advice. Blurting out his surprise he turned to the organizing vendor CEO and made known his extreme displeasure on their presence wanting them bodily removed. Evidently he felt threatened and dispensed with civility in fear, not that he was known for good behavior.

2.      She was a CIO who had greatness thrust upon her by her mentor despite having no expertise nor experience; it worked well for her manager who she followed across companies as he could amplify his limited knowledge using her as a puppet to execute whatever took his fancy. Technology had given her a basic foundation on which she failed to capitalize instead focusing on managing her Godfather. Everyone speculated on her rise with oblique references to what she brought to the table and comparisons with stereotyped women of light colored hair.
Vendors big and small who were unaware of the reality would attempt to reach her directly, or through current and past team mates, via all modes of communication. Unanswered emails and phone calls were the norm; she would confirm meetings scheduled by her team and then fail to turn up. It was as if there was nothing you could do to catch her attention or be part of the partner ecosystem; and if she did get there, she rarely participated beyond the first few minutes, always called away by (too often raising doubts about it being engineered ?) phone call.

There was speculation and murmur that the positions these individuals (and many more whose behaviors are predictably similar) held were not gained by merit alone; in the years that ensued they had not gained enough depth to survive beyond using random buzzwords. The resultant insecurity and self-doubt made sure that they did not go into meetings alone and shied away from groups which would have exposed their ignorance and incompetence. The false bravado thus created personas that no one revered, the external connects were driven by business need.

Let’s take the first case of impertinent behavior; there was no perceivable threat from thought leaders who had taken the call to exit from employment to pursue entrepreneurial journey and give their collective experience to the industry at large. For a senior person (I desist from the word leader) who was well entrenched in his role and company, what compulsions resulted in what happened ? None of the participants could fathom the root cause or deep insecurities that caused the incident; after all they had rubbed shoulders not too long ago.

The lady in question shied away from all human contact with the external world simply driven by her ineptitude. As the titular head she had to fend for herself in the big bad world; her Godfather could do nothing to shield her from the barrage of requests. Soon the inevitable happened with an aura of an ignoramus surrounding her; vendors and partners belittled her whenever they discussed business opportunities with her company. People started taking bets on how long she would last without the shadow of her protector !

My coach taught me, “Leadership is a contact sport”; he also professed, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. I more than agree now !

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