The Soft Touch

The Soft Touch

CIOs and other IT executives need to embrace the importance of the soft side of leadership.

The CIO role is demanding, unforgiving and highly visible. It combines visionary thinking with operational efficiency and effective resource management.

As with leadership in other areas, we have to get over our expectation that everything works in an IT organisation with a charismatic CIO. From my experience, the most effective CIOs have recruited and nurtured great teams. CIOs don't do it on their own; the job is just too big these days. They have terrific teams and, more often than not, these CIOs have a higher level of what Daniel Goleman terms "emotional intelligence". Men and women who have come through the ranks of IT specialists are often just a bit too sceptical of the "soft side" of the job, but increasingly that is the real differentiator between a reasonable and really good team.

The leadership demands of our Gartner Executive Program (EXP) CIOs resulted in the EXP research team focusing on what makes great IS teams and real leaders. Roger Woolfe and Marcus Blosch - both with initial training on the "hard side" - came around to the view that the key here is understanding both the true nature of teamwork and the criticality of coming to terms with your "emotional intelligence".

Recognise three specific needs and four stages of team development. Team performance depends on fulfilling task, group and individual needs. To fulfil task needs, focus on clarity of direction. To fulfil group needs, keep the team size small. To fulfil individual needs, select team members based on their empathy as much as their skill.

Senior leadership teams are usually collections of strong personalities that generally don't gel overnight, but come together in a series of stages. For simplicity these are often described as forming, storming, norming and performing.

The forming stage is when purpose, structure and rules are uncertain. Members gain their first impressions, look for signals to help position themselves relative to others and pay particular attention to the leader. The storming stage is when turbulence and conflict occur and emotions run high. Performance drops as roles and norms of behaviour get sorted out. Next is the norming stage, when turbulence gives way to stability as cohesiveness develops. And finally the performing stage is when performance rises as roles, norms of behaviour, familiarity and trust finally solidify.

Some leaders expect their team to reach the performing stage before the earlier stages have been fully worked through. It's just not going to happen. Emotions have to surface and settle at each stage before a team can move on.

Shift emphasis from management to leadership. Leadership differs from management. It isn't mystical and mysterious. It's not about charisma or personality traits and it's not merely for the chosen few. Leadership is about influencing people to change and it needs vision and passion. It's focused on doing things differently, through intuition and ideas. The ideas don't have to be brilliantly innovative. Leadership persuades and stimulates. It's inspirational and heartfelt. Management, by contrast, is about execution. It's focused on performance improvement - doing things better. Management plans, organises and controls. It lends itself to analysis and method. It's a product of the mind.

True leadership means coming to grips with emotional intelligence. It's the human complexity - the "touchy-feely" elements of leadership - that some CIOs find particularly difficult to master. This is where emotional intelligence (EI) comes in and as part of our research we interviewed EI guru Daniel Goleman.

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to recognise our own feelings and those of others. It's only one aspect of leadership and others include cognitive and technical capabilities. But emotional intelligence accounts for 90 per cent of the difference in profiles of leadership at the highest level. Although it isn't easy, the good news is that the soft issues of leadership can be learned. Good leaders don't have to be born that way - they can grow into it in the workplace.

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