Tough at the Top

Tough at the Top

A key component of your success, and that of your IT group, is the ability to communicate - the missing link from many a technology professional.

Those with the ability to capture the imagination and even inspire have a very different experience to colleagues who profile as effective managers and administrators. The latter often suffer most when things go wrong because it appears to everyone else that their core competencies have been exposed as deficient.

CIOs need to take an honest look at the communications ability of their team and themselves. There are stand-out individuals across the country, of course, but as a group you leave much to be desired.

Too many are seduced by the temptress of technology, falling for the whiz-bangery and focusing on output rather than outcome. You are doing things, fixing things, using activity as a substitute for results.

Institutional communication is constantly lacking from IT departments and their leaders - probably the most common observation from the rest of the business. And it is one of the key reasons why IT projects fail.

A number of reasons to explain this difficulty are revealed in numerous psychological studies on what is known as "communication apprehension".

Two reports conducted in 1987 and then 1999 revealed several key factors to help explain why most of us have difficulty explaining ourselves adequately.

The genuine lack of skills in this sphere, and previous failures when we have attempted to communicate, dissuade us from sticking their head out of the trench.

Interestingly, so-called "subordinate status" also has a large impact. So, if you think you run a team where everyone can speak their mind, then think again. Others around the table may not be feeling that way at all. Similarly, it is possible that CIOs do not feel they can speak up at a C-Level gathering for the same reason.

One danger that should not be forgotten is that you can also say too much. Business author Michael Korda advises executives to be careful when they disclose issues and anxieties to colleagues, as they can be used against you.

A US psychologist, PA Zimbardo, found that non-communicators were also afraid of being conspicuous, of being judged and they feared the unpredictable feedback they might receive as a result of what they had said.

Many technology managers might be afflicted by a so-called "degree of dissimilarity". That is, they struggle to find common ground with the rest of the staff.

In a nutshell, people who find communication difficult avoid it. And from the outside looking in, that pretty much sums up most IT departments.

Being told you are a poor communicator is often difficult to stomach. It is akin to be told you are a poor car driver, as pretty much everyone reckons they are perfectly acceptable behind the wheel. That is, until you go to an advanced driving course where you realize you know nothing compared with the experts.

Communication is much the same. Being honest enough to acknowledge the challenge and then overcome it can create opportunities and success. In a world where language, not technology, is still king, life does not have to be lonely at the top.

Mark Hollands is Asia-Pacific vice-president at Gartner

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