Cowardly Lion: Being Chief Means Facing Your Fears

Wizard of Oz Cowardly LionThe Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum believes that his fear makes him inadequate. He  did not understand that courage means acting in the face of fear.

Some background. My family knows a chief surgeon. This surgeon packed up his family and moved from the West Coast to the East Coast to start a new hospital program. A coast-to-coast move is a big deal especially when you have several kids of varying ages. He also brought along several members of his medical staff and their families as well. So this was a very important program for the hospital.

The program started and at first it seemed to be doing well but then things started to go wrong. As they say, “the wheels came off the bus”. The program started to loose support from hospital management and while the chief tried to correct the problems and bring the program back on track, ultimately he was unsuccessful and was removed as chief.  A major blow to anybody’s ego of course.

Now the program is in a tailspin until a new chief can be found. I am not going to get into the details about transitions, management, etc. The point I am trying to make here is this chief surgeon did not face his fears head on and fight for himself. There were obvious correctable mistakes in the program that even I as a layman saw. Also the surgeon had a pretty good contract and could have exercised his options. The hospital needed him. But no. Instead he packed up his family and headed back much to the dismay of his wife, family, and coworkers.

Whether you are a chief executive officer, chief information officer, or chief surgeon, you need to fight! Fight for your agenda, fight for your staff, fight for what is right, but most of all fight for yourself. If you are not going to fight for yourself, no one else will. By fighting you become a stronger leader and a more confident leader. Your reputation can only grow if you tackle your fears head on and deal with situations instead of packing up and running away. Why be chief if all you are going to do is runaway from your problems? Take a stand and fight!


Corporate politics is the bane of many executives. It is everywhere in a company. There is no escaping from it. Because of the level the CIO reaches in an organization it is a fact that he/she will be dealing with political issues daily. So if you cannot run from it, it is best to play with in it and win.

Most executives are horrible at politics. Most think they are good at but in truth they are not. It is not their fault. There really is no school to go and learn how to deal with politics. You learn how to deal with politics from the street.

Politics in general has a bad reputation, however, there is also a good side. The good of politics is figuring out how to shape your agenda so it fits in a way that is positive for everyone affected.

A CIO that regurgitates tech jargon and buzz words will not get ahead in the game of politics. Politics is about selling. People make decisions emotionally and use their intellect to rationalize these emotional decisions. If you want to accomplish anything you will need to sell to the decision-makers. That means understanding the decision-makers background and thought process. Like governmental politics it means figuring out who will be on your side, who will fight for you, and who can be persuaded and how.

Now the dark side of politics can be more vicious. Let’s face reality; it is also the most interesting. Backstabbing happens to all of us at some time in our careers. It is the nature of the beast. All you can do is figure who the person is and how they are trying to do it, and plan your moves to counter them. It is a game of chess.

To win, you must always remember that corporate politics is a game with high stakes. Never forget that being a CIO means being a politician first and foremost.

Further reading about corporate politics:

Corporate Politics-The Elephant in the Room by Mark Beckford

Winning At Organizational Politics Without Losing Your Soul by Dan King

My Friday Post: Career Advice from Entourage’s Ari Gold

EntourageHBO’s Entourage is one of the best shows on television. Well written, well produced, and well acted. Kudos to HBO for putting quality entertainment on for us.

This Sunday’s episode #69, “One Car, Two, Red Car, Blue Car” was another great episode. In this episode, superagent Ari Gold stood out for giving advice to the Entourage boys. He seemed almost fatherly dispensing wisdom. Unlike his usual obnoxious, abrasive self. Are we seeing a change in Ari Gold? Let’s hope not. 🙂

In one particular scene, Ari gives Turtle some career advice. Short and to the point in typical Ari fashion. No b##s## here.

Here are some great lines from Ari and how it can be applied to real life:

“Do you know what it takes to make something of yourself?”  [TRANSLATION: Do you know who you are and how to get there? Only you can answer that question.]

“That is what he is willing to put in for his own success. He is paying his dues.” [TRANSLATION: Success comes only with hard work and determination.]

“Great Ideas are one thing, can you execute it?” [TRANSLATION: Having an idea is 20% of the process, executing is 80% of the process. Can you successfully execute?]

“In this life, no one is going to invest because you think you can. Do you have a business plan?” [TRANSLATION: You have to have a plan. It is that simple.]

“At what point, can your investors see some profit?” [TRANSLATION: Life is all about ROI. What is the point of doing it if there is no benefit?]

Let’s see this Sunday what other words of wisdom we can get from the boys of Entourage… 😉

Qualify Your Professional Network

There was a recent discussion on LinkedIn regarding tight versus broad networks (LinkedIn Strategies – Tight vs Broad Network). Is it more effective in a  job search to build a network of close connections or instead, build a network with a broad reach, but weak connections?

This is an interesting discussion. Recently I have been trying to qualify my network. I have been building my network for a little over a year now. At first, I thought it should be a numbers game. How many people can I connect with? I immediately saw diminishing returns.

To put things in perspective, I currently have:

  • 277 contacts on LinkedIn.
  • 180 following/156 followers on Twitter.
  • 20 people actively following my blog daily and commenting
  • 150 non-family contacts in my contact database

Of all the above contacts I consider maybe 10 contacts can help me find a new position or are people that remain in touch with me. What does this mean? Have I failed in networking? Should I have a tighter network or a better network? These are questions I ask myself everyday.

Here is what I do know.

  • Maintaining a network takes time and effort on your part.
  • If you are seeing no responses from your network then you should not put the effort in networking with that person. I know this seems harsh. But lets face facts, if you email and call someone and they do not respond then it is clear they are not interested in maintaining a link with you.
  • Move on and find others that will return your emails and telephone calls. Even if they do not have a position, they are just checking in with you to maintain a link.
  • Maintain a network that brings value to you.

I have started to be more discriminating in whom I add to LinkedIn and follow on Twitter. I want to have contacts that I can help and that can help me both in the short and long-term. It is not a numbers game anymore for me. It is about quality relationships with people.

What do you think about maintaining a network? What are your thoughts on how to maintain a network?

Only Apply If You Are Employed?

There was an interesting article in the WSJ, Only the Employed Need Apply, by Dana Mattioli. In this article Dana writes that some companies are bypassing unemployed workers and trying to hire only employed workers. “If they’re employed in today’s economy, they have to be first string” says Ryan Ross, a partner with Kaye/Bassman International Corp., an executive recruiting firm in Dallas

These are unusual times. The unemployment rate is at 9.4% and ticking up every month. Firms are still cutting staff. It is unfair for firms to think that just because a person is unemployed, they are not as good as those who are employed. The fact of the matter is there are good and bad people who are unemployed. In today’s economy there are probably a higher percentage of good out-of-work people who got laid off. I know several people (me being one) who got laid off through no fault of our own. These people were former traders, salespeople, recruiters, COOs, and IT executives who were good in their jobs. Their departments or divisions were eliminated. Being unemployed does not make them or me bad people. It just makes us available to take on new challenges and bring our experience and expertise to a company that understands our value.

Turning a Corner? A CIO’s Job Search

For those of you that read my blog regularly know that I have been out of work since September. I have been looking but there have been very few opportunities since the October financial meltdown. In fact, it has been dead. I liken it to being in sailboat with no wind-aimlessly drifting in a void.

That is until this week. There have been at least a dozen job postings for senior level IT people in the New York area. What has happened in the last few weeks? Is the economy turning a corner? Are firms beginning to hire? Who knows?

I got two interesting phone calls this week. One was from a recruiter, “Hello. I have a client that is looking to expand IT operations into the northeast. What do they need to accomplish this task?” Now you must be chuckling to yourself. Is this recruiter serious? Before I could even begin to answer this question, I had to ask for more details. Any good executive would. Of course, the recruiter could not provide much in the way of any useful details. In fact, I gave her a list of questions to ask her client. I said before you begin calling executives you should have a clearer understanding of what exactly the client is trying to accomplish. The talent pool in the NYC arena is large but you have to know what to ask. If not you would embarrass yourself and your client.

The second phone call was from a HR person. We all know HR people are more clueless than anyone on the face of the planet. So any HR person that calls me I am always weary. This was no exception. “We have a small IT shop and we had to let some people go, which caused service levels to deteriorate and now business is suffering and we need to bring service levels back up to acceptable standards. Where should we focus our efforts?”

I asked both the recruiter and HR person that if their client/company wants help to answer these questions and help guide them I am more than willing to come in even on a consultant basis to help. Of course I got the “We are just in an exploration phase and not ready to bring people in at this time” answer.

Am I disappointed? No. I am actually happy to see that the job market is starting to have a pulse. Even though it seems to be a very slight pulse it is a pulse none-the-less. Things are not totally dead and maybe things will continue to improve for everyone. So I am still keeping my fingers crossed….

Ingredients of a CIO

I have often wondered what characteristics make a good CIO. Books have been written about great leaders throughout history but can the same rules be applied to CIOs? Lui Sieh, in his blog, A Bottom’s Up View From a Pai Mei Guy, discusses “(Successful) IT People Characteristics”. Here, Lui lists nine characteristics that makes an IT person a success.

  1. Passion
  2. Self-teaching and love of learning
  3. Intelligence
  4. Hidden experience
  5. Variety of technologies
  6. (Lack of) Formal qualifications
  7. Self-confidence vs Hubris
  8. Star-Trek test
  9. Perseverance

Can the same be true for a CIO? Yes. But let’s go deeper. What are the key ingredients of a CIO? What is that “stuff” that makes a good CIO a great CIO?

  • Visionary-A CIO must look to the future and figure out a strategy on how to get there.
  • Pragmatic-A CIO must be sensibly and realistic in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations when dealing with issues.
  • Business Acumen-As a CIO you must interact with the business and therefore you must relate in business terms. You make business decisions about technology.
  • Motivator-As a CIO you must be able to motivate people.
  • Politician-As a CIO you must be able to deal with and navigate politics.
  • Leader- As a CIO you must be able to supervise, manage, and inspire people. Delegate assignments and ensure things get done.
  • Technophile – As a CIO you have to be wowed by technology. Let’s face it; we deal with cool types of technology everyday.

Being CIO takes a lot determination, special skills and characteristics to succeed. We have to walk the line between technology and business. A good CIO will be successful in developing these characteristics so that we can excel at our job. The job – to lead and maximize the leverage your firm gets from using technology.