In the second of four exclusive monthly articles, David Taylor, author of best-selling management book The Naked Leader, shares the agenda, skills and actions needed for ambitious IT leaders to succeed
Two shoe salesmen from different companies travelled to a far-flung country to assess the markets. After just a day, the first phoned back to base. "They have never even heard of shoes here, let alone worn them... I'm coming home on the next flight."
The second also called his company. "They have never even heard of shoes here, let alone worn them... send me everything you've got."
Our "reality" is not dictated by the events that happen to us, it is decided by the meaning we give to those events. Therein lays the difference between chief information officers who take control of their own future and those who don't. And if you don't take control, someone else will.
I champion the cause for CIOs having greater influence and authority with chief executives and boards. Such championing by itself is not enough - you will only make it happen with action.
Any and every "reason" you think or give for not being recognised in the way you desire and deserve is of your own making and is an excuse.
Last month I shared the specific mindset, actions and agenda needed to be valued by your CEO and board. This month I list some of the top problems/challenges faced by every IT leader, in no order of priority, and two choices on how you can react.
The more times you make the second choice, the higher you will rise in any organisation and the better prepared you will be to take your place as the operations director, with board-level responsibility.
In my next column I will share the principles of an enlightened firm in the 21st century and the role of the operations director. A role that awaits you, if you choose.
Do you have a question for David Taylor? E-mail it to
Choose your answer to these top IT challenges:
"How can I write an IT strategy when we don't have a business one?"
Choice one: Wait for a business strategy to be written. Grow cobwebs as you wait.
Choice two: Go to your CEO and offer to help write such a strategy, facilitating the input from all areas in the organisation.
"Our projects are not clearly prioritised. How can I be expected to plan resources?"
Choice one: Ask the CEO or the board to prioritise projects please. And when they don't, simply ask them again. When they finally do it, watch how many will be priority number one.
Choice two: Do it yourself on the basis of the deliverable business value that each will deliver. And every project must deliver such value (there is no such thing as an IT project), and present at the board meeting. After the arguments subside you will have a prioritised list.
"We need to innovate more - how can I find time to do this?"
Choice one: Never innovate, or worse still, hold an innovation session outside of day-to-day work and stack up hundreds of ideas, adding to work pressure.
Choice two: Innovate within the projects you are working on by focusing on what you want to achieve (outcomes), not want you want to avoid (risk).
"I would never admit it openly, but my first priority is my own survival."
Choice one: Make yourself totally indispensable - don't trust anyone in your team, they are after your job. Route one to redundancy.
Choice two: Make yourself totally dispensable, knowing that your career and success are about you, not the job you happen to be doing at the moment. Identify a successor and ensure they are ready to take over from you within a specific period.
"My key suppliers are at the root of many of my problems - they need to be brought into line."
Choice one: Wave the contract at them, tell them as the customer you are always right and most importantly, threaten them, professionally of course.
Choice two: Take the supplier out for a drink, and each take five minutes to share, openly, professionally and privately, what has gone wrong and what you most need from them.
"More and more decisions on IT purchasing are being made outside of IT, sometimes I am not even consulted."
Choice one: This is totally unacceptable. Go to the managers concerned and make it clear that you or your people must be involved in any and all key buying decisions.
Choice two: If you are not advised, you are not trusted. Most IT development and therefore buying takes place outside of the IT department. Embrace and encourage this and lead the process as a facilitator and business leader.
"You said that to get promoted onto the board my CEO has to like and trust me, but I don't like or trust my CEO, what can I do?"
Choice one: Make a long and logical presentation to them about how personalities should not come into such decisions, and that it is far more important that IT is represented at board level. Good luck with that one.
Choice two: Start liking and trusting them or find another job.
"We don't have enough skills and talent in the people we already have."
Choice one: This is serious. Ask an outside consultant to identify what specific skills you need and do not have. Then recruit or use a contractor.
Choice two: This is serious. Ask everyone to share their top three non-technical skills - the top three talents they bring to the team. Do this in a trusted environment, in teams, not by e-mail.
"One person in my organisation seems to have a go at me and my IT department no matter what we do - and they are a key influencer in the company. It is getting me down."
Choice one: Show them the last three service level agreements and availability/project success figures and tell them to get off your back. Then ignore them.
Choice two: The word tent comes to mind. Invite them to work in your department for a period, asking for their help and experience to improve what you do.
David Taylor's CV
David Taylor is a management thinker, speaker and writer whose insights are based on a 25-year track record inside firms including Rolls-Royce, Hoechst and Cornhill.
His client list spans the Fortune 500 and FTSE 200, he is faculty member of the Young Presidents' Organisation, a visiting MBA lecturer at Imperial College, London and was voted the European Speaker of the Year 2004.
His book, The Naked Leader, was the best-selling UK business book in 2003. The Naked Leader Experience was published worldwide in April 2004.
For these articles, Taylor spoke with 300 business leaders between June 2003 and December 2004.