What Type of Leader Are You?

By Daniel Gingras

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The role of the CXO, particularly the CIO is primarily one of leadership, but it’s the one thing we generally never get trained for. Ironically, it has become the “definition” of the CIO in recent time as the job becomes increasingly complex and specialized.

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The “true” CIO is focused on leading his organization but, more importantly, leading the entire organization in the acceptance and management of change. Moving the organization to accept the strategic nature of IT requires two ephemeral qualities not taught in most academic programs: Salesmanship and Leadership. Certainly salesmanship can be taught, in fact, it’s a growth industry. Look around and you’ll find every conceivable type of sales training program available.

Most, of course, have little to do with the type of sales we’ll be doing, which is both consultative and based on influence without authority. We’re trying to convince the management and then the organization as a whole as to the value of our vision for using technology to create a true competitive advantage for the organization.

Then we need to convince them of the architecture and implementation details necessary to execute that vision. I always advise people to start with the old gem, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Need more help? Take the Dale Carnegie course. Of course, if you really want to hone your skills, ask to go out with the sales force (if you have one in your organization) and try selling your company's service or product.

When I was a CIO, I required all of my managers to spend at least three days on the road with the sales force. Nothing changes your perspective more than having to try to sell what your company makes or does. It’s the hardest job in any organization, which is usually why it’s the most highly compensated.

Leadership is another issue. By and large great leaders are a product of their early development. If you were a Boy Scout or participated in other leadership oriented organizations in your developing years, or if you were in the military, you were taught how to lead.

These experiences can’t be duplicated and their value is incalculable. That doesn’t mean if you didn’t participate in these experiences you’re lost. If you focus on leadership and make it a priority, you can develop yourself as a truly great leader. Want an example of truly great leadership, read ENDURANCE : Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing.

Shackleton lead an expedition aboard the sailing vessel HMS Endurance to the South Pole in 1912. Unfortunately, the voyage went horribly wrong and the expedition became stranded in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. Sir Ernest Shackleton led the expedition and although the ship was crushed by the ice, he took one of the smaller boat and sailed thousands of miles, climbed over an frozen mountain range to find help and then lead them back to save every one of his men.

Buy the book and read it. Would you take your role as leader so seriously that you would risk your life on what was considered a certain-death mission to save your team? It’s a great question.

Orchestra Model

The CIO has a unique challenge as a leader. Although he or she might have once been pretty technical, as he’s moved more into management, his skills generally fall behind his staff. So he must lead and motivate a group of extremely talented individuals; keeping them focused on a single vision. I liken this to the role of a conductor. You should be hiring the best cello player available in the marketplace.They’ll be able to play much better than you ever could hope to, but you’ve got to keep them playing the right music, at the right pace, and in cooperation with the rest of the orchestra. You need to insure all of the members practice and are great at what they do. You need to keep them motivated, and you need to insure that there are enough “ticket sales” to keep the whole organization moving forward.

Leadership Types

There are dozens of archetypes of leadership and hundreds (if not thousands) of books written about the types of leadership and what they mean so this may not be a comprehensive list. More just a starting point to think about how you lead.

The Tyrant - This is the most toxic type of leader. This leader believes “fear and intimidation” is the right motivational structure. I’ve worked for such leaders, which suck the lifeblood from you as you struggle to meet their expectations.

Sometimes they’re reasonable, but often you get a tyrant who has unreasonable expectations. If you’re working for such a leader, you know it. Update your resume and get out of there. You will never thrive in this environment and it will atrophy your career and personal growth.

You need to remember that it's work not your life and if work makes your life miserable then do something about it.

The Ostrich - This type of leader locks himself in his or her office and doesn’t want to hear the details of any problems in the organization. “Take care of it,” is usually the answer: no direction, no coaching, no participation.

This is not a leader, it’s someone holding the job who doesn’t understand their responsibility to the organization. Every leader should recognize that they have a responsibility both to the organization at large, but more specifically to the people under their leadership.

If you’re not focused on growing your organization’s capabilities, satisfaction, and value to your company, you should be doing something else.

The Seagull - Typical of a leadership structure where the organization is remotely located from the leadership, this leaders flies in, dumps on the staff, then flies away. They may have additional attributes of some of the other leaders, but the primary characteristics of some of the other caustic types.

The Politician - In general the “politician” has become a pejorative term, and rightfully so. Politicians are generally self-centered, looking to boost their positions on the backs of their followers. They’re more than happy to take credit for the work of others, completely focused on self aggrandizement—generally at the expense of their followers or their organization as a whole.

You can prosper somewhat with a politician as a boss if you focus on making them look good, but recognize that you’ll never get credit outside of your organization from the politician. Don’t worry though, word will get out and people will recognize your value. Don’t emulate the politician, rather try to develop a more inclusive leadership style.

The Inspirational Leader - This person is a joy to work for, he’s an evangelist who makes you want to come into work every day. He leads from the front, and you’d be willing to follow him into hell. He or she can have a number of sub attributes, but in general think of them as the tough old sergeant in the WWII movies who leads men in a charge against the enemy machine gun.

They might also be more like a “preacher” who gets you all fired up to do the right thing but at the end of the day you feel great about working for this person. They’ll make sure you grow and that the technology adds real value to the organization.

Make sure things are getting done, however, because there is a small subset of this type which is ineffective in execution. They’ll motivate everyone, but nothing will get done. Luckily though, this mutation is generally rare. The Coach - In the end, developing the people who follow you in your mission has to be a primary duty of the great leader, and this involves no small part of coaching. Sometimes it means delivering the difficult message “Your performance needs to improve,” but it’s always done in such a way that you feel better for receiving the message.

You know the person truly cares about your development and growth, and that delivering constructive criticism is a part of growing. In fact, you should be wary of a leader who always praises. Either their expectations are too low, and you’re not being stretched and thus not growing, or they’re not really concerned about you and are just backslapping you at every occasion.

A really great leader knows he or she has to develop his followers and that that means challenging them and giving them opportunities to fail, but supporting them in their failures so that they learn.

So, what’s the best style? Maybe no single style, but a combination of a number of styles. I try myself to be a combination of inspirational leader and coach. But, occasionally, I find that neither of these styles works with someone who has spent most of their time under a toxic boss like the tyrant.

I have to modify my style to fit the individual, to insure that I understand exactly what they want. This is the essence of true leadership: reconciling the needs of the individuals in the team with the organizational mission.

Make no mistake, it’s tough to do, but it’s the essence of the CIO's role. And if you’re a CIO, or aspiring to be one, then this is where you should concentrate your efforts.

How do you find out if you’re a great leader ? Ask. Survey your staff, your peers and your superiors. Get them to give you 360-degree feedback and support this concept within your organization. Get details of where you need improvement not only from your boss but from your staff. Make it a formal process, and more than once a year … once a quarter if possible. If you don’t ask, you’ll never grow as a leader.

Daniel Gingras has been CIO of five major companies and is a partner at Tatum, LLC. , a nationwide professional services organization of senior-level technology and financial executives who take on leadership roles for client companies. He has more than 30 years of IT experience and teaches computer science at Boston University. He can be reached at dan.gingras@tatumllc.com.