Lessons for CIOs: Skewed data and dirty politics

IT executive management lessons from Libyan proto-dictator

One of the big problems for senior-level IT managers is that the skills they need to get into a position to credibly make a pitch for the top job aren't the ones they need to actually do it.

Technical, time and budget-management skills come early, because no one gets high enough in IT to mess up anything important if they can't bring in small projects on time and on budget.

So do many of the political skills, for those who survive fact-optional negotiations with business-unit managers over system requirements or SLA performance that hits all the required metrics but are still "sub-par."

What's missing is the amorphous set of executive skills often mistaken for self promotion, obfuscation or high-level self-promotional CYA by those in the lower ranks.

Chief among these is the ability to create self-evident justifications for decisions you've already made, using resources and methods that look unquestionably legitimate to others.

Today's case study on how to do that comes from the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE), which created a study program on government and economics funded by then-Ph.D.-candidate Seif al-Islam Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Aside from his other research and analysis, part of the mastery of economics Dr. Gaddafi demonstrated was finding a credible source for information tailored to his specific goals.

Rather than doing all the research himself, he hired outside help – as many CIOs do, using both IT and general business consulting firms.

Dr. Gaddafi's requirement for credibility was higher than most, considering his father is the murderous, longtime dictator of Libya and the subject of the thesis was the role citizens and non-governmental organizations should play within autocracies to create the most stable, democratic societies.

We will forget the irony for a moment, and the possibility that he may have plagiarized part of the text, to focus on the process of building credible documentation no matter how un-credible you are to whoever you're trying to get to say "yes."

Dr. Gaddafi not only outsourced the research to renowned global consulting firm The Monitor Group, he hired a team within it led by two former top British intelligence officers with long experience in the Middle East.

The team, led by the head of MI6 during the first Gulf War and an agent who was instrumental in getting Libya to make peace with the West, interviewed heads of NGOs such as as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, to get their views on the dynamics of autocratic rule.

Dr. Gaddafi's conclusion was that even under autocratic regimes, giving legitimate voice to citizens and business organizations as well as the government would result in more stable, more democratic societies.

The documentation Monitor Group delivered provided credible evidence for Dr. Gaddafi's 428-page thesis as did, presumably, his decision to continue funding the study program at LSE under which he received his degree.

The key skills identified here are:

1. The ability to delegate;

2. The ability to outsource information-gathering to a credible source;

3. Chutzpah.

Dr. Gaddafi received his Ph.D. in 2007 and has managed to find work in Libya. The London School of Economics announced today it would close the study program he funded.

Gaddafi's latest project is the defense of Tripoli from citizens rebelling against his father's rule, an effort in which he may have been wounded, and about which he was quoted as saying:

"They [the protesters] have started by attacking army camps, have killed soldiers, officers ... and taken weapons... We will keep fighting until the last man standing...We will eradicate them all."

Key lessons:

1. Get the evidence you need to make the case you need to make at the time;

2. Don't let a case you've already made restrict your ability to shoot anyone who unhappy with your previous work.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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