Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Ade McCormack on Visionary CIOs

Ade McCormack, a Honourary Visiting Fellow of the Centre for Information Leadership writes in CIO UK Magazine on the need for CIOs to be visionary. Two points in the article caught my attention.
"But isn’t it the CEO’s role to be visionary while everyone else focuses on strategy? Where does this leave the CIO? Surely he has insights into the fast-moving world of technology that will not only shape the vision but seed it?"
My first observation would be that if a CEO felt they were the only source of vision, the likelihood is that they would not be very good. That aside, to an extent wouldn't it depend on the dynamics, personalities and culture of the board, and the perceptions of the information leader within it? When I studied governance on my MBA I came away with the feeling that culture and personality drove much of the effectiveness of boards.

In any case, it's clear why the dynamics of boards and how to work with them is essential for any information leader to master (which is why we cover it in the Master of Information Leadership).
"But it’s simply not happening – a security nightmare, you say. So rather than being the hero of the hour you are known as the person who rains on other people’s parades. The Chief Visionary ‘Stiflement’ Officer."
The next point Ade raises implies a tension between the information leader as an enabler and their stewardship role around risk, security and compliance. In a litigious and risk averse culture it is perhaps not suprising that some information leaders feel that they cannot ever fail and so seek to lock systems down tight (leading to the complaints above). So If I may, I'd like to suggest the term 'stewardship trap': information leaders need to work in an environment where there is a mature understanding of stewardship, in order to allow them to manage risk and deliver vision, rather than just being managed by risk.

Of course, it may be argued that other members of the board (such as the CFO) also have a stewardship role. How do they balance the tension between vision and stewardship? Or are they not expected to major on both? There may be lessons to be learned here.

If there is a conclusion to draw from Ade's thought-provoking article it is that not only does it fall on the information leader to address the actions Ade suggests, it also falls to the organisation to have a culture that allows such efforts to grow and thrive.

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