3 lessons CIOs can learn from successful politicians
We are deep in the heart of "Silly Season" ... Presidential Primaries. CIOs do not often look to politics for examples of better ways to run their IT organizations, but I'm suggesting there are lessons to be learned.
Let's begin with three rules that work well for politicians that may help CIOs operate more effectively within their IT organization and within the larger confines of their company.
Rule # 1 - Operate with the end in mind
Political campaigns are unique in that there is a very definitive timeframe with a very clear end -- Election Day -- and a very clear definition of success or failure. You win, or you lose. Period.
Corporate environments are different because you often deal with timely issues or pressures such as earnings reporting season, and a clear end may not always be in sight. However, it is critical for CIOs to plan with an end in sight. Ask yourself what winning and losing looks like to you and your organization at the end of the quarter, mid-year, in a year, five years? How do you quantify winning and losing? Have you mapped the strategy to get you there?
If you don't define what the end and the subsequent win or loss looks like in language that everyone in your organization can understand, rest assured that one of your C-level colleagues will do it for you.
Rule #2 - Stay fluid
Every successful politician has dealt with an issue, usually multiple issues and situations for which he or she was not prepared for or did not expect. Life changes, situations change, and by nature, successful politicians are adept at adjusting and remaining fluid.
The ability to face a crisis, to adapt and to persevere is critical, and successful politicians and CIOs share this trait. The crisis may be a piece of negative information from a political candidate's past or for a CIO, a major IT outage. It may be an internal threat such as a political primary or staring down the decision to outsource a major IT function.
Eastern philosophy often speaks of the Eastern mindset being one of bamboo, and the Western mindset being one of oak. In a violent storm, bamboo bends, adjusts and survives, while oak fights the wind and eventually breaks.
A successful CIO stays fluid enough to allow him or herself the opportunity to bend, adapt and adjust to changing situations.
Rule #3 - Have a message, and master it
What do you call a political campaign without a clear message? A losing campaign - every time!
Whether it is Senator Obama's message of hope and change, or Senator McCain's message of straight talk, or Senator Clinton's message of experience that matters, every major Presidential contender has a very clear message. Each of the contenders has taken a roller coaster ride through this entire process - and every contender has entered a down cycle when he or she came off message, or tried to change message mid-stride.
Why does a CIO need a message? As CIO, you are the leader of your organization, which means every team member, whether 200 or 20,000, takes direction from you. If you do not have a clearly articulated message that can be effectively delivered and is easy to understand, you will run into trouble.
Every effective organization has a clearly defined message, and I would argue that every organization within an organization that is able to exhibit long-term success has a clear message. Without an effective message it is impossible for every member of your team to operate at peak efficiency and effectiveness.
Your message should be simple. Examples of where you might find your message: what your IT department stands for, what success looks like for you, and what direction you want every member of your team to be swimming. This may seem like common sense, but the vast majority of CIOs do not have a message, and it is always to their detriment. If you do not develop your own message, someone else will do it for you.