The Care and Feeding of Your Career, How to Avoid Bumping Heads

The Care and Feeding of Your Career, How to Avoid Bumping Heads

Editor's Note

Dear Reader

I - and assume you may too - have some serious issues with a number of the sentiments expressed in this column (not the least of which is the concept of my children having "bludgeoned" my pride daily during their youth). I'm also not particularly keen on the male/female stereotypes portrayed here - I thought we'd all left that simplistic jingoism behind long ago (sigh).

That said, personal knowledge of some CIOs having had similar CXO experiences to those discussed here prompted me to include the column in this issue. Perhaps Dr Goulston's advice may help other CIOs manage the unrealistic expectations of their CXOs. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to use the standard caveat that goes: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of this publication or its editor.


IT and business executives seem to hail from two alien tribes. Here's how they can come to see eye-to-eye.

"Do this, do that, get it done now, and I don't want to hear any excuses."

Ever hear these words - explicitly or implicitly - from your CEO or another CXO demanding that you either fix or implement something? They think it's just a matter of turning a switch, but here you are on the verge of a huge project, and they don't want to hear about it. This endeavour will take a drastic reshuffling of manpower, may necessitate money the CFO will resent spending and could require what they least want to give you, namely their cooperation and patience.

Before you go down the road of feeling victimized (even though to a certain extent you are) and make matters much worse by acting like a victim, take a deep breath, exhale and listen carefully to what I'm about to tell you.

If you're an IT person, there are three things that are likely to be true about you:

1. You're better with things and information than you are with people (especially where confrontations are required).

2. With regard to technology, you're as focused on what needs to be done to make IT work as you are on what it might actually do for the business.

3. You're most likely male.

Now consider where many top business-side executives, especially those with marketing and sales backgrounds, come from:

1. They're better with people and information than things (Jack Welch said: "I was afraid of the Internet . . . because I couldn't type.").

2. With regard to technology, they're more focused on what they want IT to do than what needs to be done to make it work.

3. They're most likely male too.

What is the significance of you both being male? Men will do anything to avoid humiliation. It's the "pride" thing. (Women suffer this less because any sense of their pride is usually bludgeoned by the way their children treat them every day.) Men feel humiliated when they feel incompetent and will do almost anything to prevent that sense of incompetence from being exposed in the light of day to others and to themselves.

Men's comfort zone is directly proportionate to their competence zone. The less competent they feel, the more uncomfortable. Nobody (CEO, CFO, COO or CIO) likes to be pulled out of their comfort zone, and they will fight it tooth and nail. Rather than feeling reassured by someone else's competence, men often feel out of control and at the mercy of the more competent person. This is especially true for a CEO who has mistreated a CIO and now needs his help.

Business executives resist being dragged into their area of incompetence, the world of "things". Technologists resist being dragged into their area of incompetence, the world of people (especially people in conflict). And here's the rub for many CIOs: These business executives are comfortable dealing with interpersonal conflict and confrontation (after all, their negotiation skills have helped them get where they are), whereas most CIOs feel like they're in way over their head in such settings.

So when a business executive demands that you get something done and get it done now, you stand transfixed like a deer in headlights. When they blast you with what they want, then stonewall you when you start to explain what you need from them (time, money and patience) to get it done, you are frustrated. No, that's too mild - you're appalled. You're infuriated.

And you don't do infuriated well. You dig in your heels to weather the storm and stop yourself from saying that angry, but oh-so-relieving career-ending retort to this SOB who crossed over from respecting your dignity to abuse a long time ago and who is making his unrealistic expectations your fault if you don't meet them. If you were a hard drive, you'd crash.

So what's a mild-mannered, "just let me do the work you want me to do and get off my back" guy like you supposed to do?

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