Emerging Tech

The view from the management side

Too many management publications make senior management sound like a walk in the park - come in late, make a few decisions, take a long lunch, make a couple more decisions, and then jet off to the islands. Well, perhaps they aren't quite that bad, but let me offer those of you who aspire to the C level a glimpse of what it is sometimes like to be CIO.

I have been asked on occasion "what is the worst thing about being a CIO or Director?" My answer is that there is no one "worst thing" and for the most part, at least for me, there are more good days than bad days. But there has been one aspect of senior/executive management that takes its toll over time and is something you have to come to grips with if you are going to remain in senior management for your career.

The one aspect I am referring to is being able to "see behind the curtain" of your organization. For those of you not young enough to remember the Wizard of Oz, the great wizard was exposed when the curtain he was hiding behind while operating his mock wizard machinery was pulled open to reveal a not-so-imposing old man.

So it is with your organization. As you climb the leadership ladder, more and more of your organizations inner workings are exposed to you. By the time you are Director/CIO you usually are privy to most all of what is happening in some fashion or another. Because you are IT, it is your job to know intricate details of how the whole organization works, and folks, sometimes it isn't pretty.

At first, when you finally make it high enough to be allowed a view behind the curtain, it all seems fascinating and somewhat mysterious. Your eyes and ears tell you things that your mind simply doesn't want to comprehend. Surely there was more thought placed into making that really important decision than what you just witnessed? Right? Obviously, there is some vital scrap of information that you do not have or were not made aware of that would make everything you have just seen or heard make sense - there has to be! No my friend, it doesn't always have to be.

In fact, some of the most important decisions made by senior management are made with very little thought. Hardly shocking I know, as I am sure you have walked around wondering what kind of dolt could make a decision like that? But it's true. Sometimes decisions are truly made by a dolt, and sometimes they're just bad decisions made by someone who was just having an off day, or was using bad information, etc.

As an employee lower down on the proverbial career ladder, you're actually sheltered from a great deal of information and decision-making - and sheltered is the apt term here. Someone--usually your manager--has protected you from news and information that's not healthy for your morale. In fact, many of your managers probably work hard to make sure that you come to work in an environment that's "fun" to be in. And by "fun," I mean that you have the tools and resources to accomplish what's asked of you in a manner that's not harmful to you or causes you too much stress.

As you climb the ladder and are exposed to more of your organization, there are fewer people who shelter you from anything. You, as a senior member of management, are exposed to all the warts and pimples and, by golly, you better like it because it's your job to deal with those warts and pimples. If you don't like dealing with messes, you don't need to climb the ladder. You have to like to get in there and fix things and deal with your organization in its proverbial underpants.

But this is the part that you need to deal with and the part that can make you jaded. When your days are filled with more problems than success, and when your plate never seems to empty and the decision-making that's happening around you feels like a circus - you need to step back and realize that you're witnessing this because you wanted to and that it's not as bad as it seems. It is precisely because you are allowed this view behind the curtain that you are feeling the way you do.

Some folks don't like it, or they do but only for so long. They get burned out because behind the curtain, there's a great deal of smoke and fire. But that smoke and fire is there not just because of problems but because of opportunity. It also hopefully indicates that there is some creation going on, that the organization is being shaped and molded to enable it to be successful. Being a part of that is what makes being in senior management worth it - at least to me.

I certainly don't want to paint a dismal picture of senior management. However, for those that think that making it up the ladder means martinis at lunch and golf in the afternoon - well, that's not true in my business. Most of the CIOs/IT Directors I know are hard-working and thoughtful individuals who come in daily to face what's behind the curtain. It is the challenge that gets them up in the morning and it is that same challenge that sometimes sends you home beaten and disheartened. I personally am grateful that I have had the opportunity to see and work behind the curtain for much of my career and I encourage those of you that like this sort of challenge to seek out leadership and management opportunities.

10 comments
AlphaW
AlphaW

This really summed up what I have known for a long time but never put into words. The employees that work under me have a much less stressful day than I do, dealing with upper-management and the flying monkeys behind the curtain. On one hand though I would not trade it for anything, other than leaving the IT field completely and refreshing myself.

khilanvinchhi
khilanvinchhi

Thanks for the article... Just as curious was I to read, really worth the time spent on the article!!!!

steven.auerbach
steven.auerbach

One path in the development of career can include expending the effort to "peak behind the curtain" even when not invited. My organization, and my leader in particular, have never stomped on me for this effort. As such I get to see some of the very frustrating realites that my leader must face as part of his core function, but I have the luxury, like a grandparent or uncle, of sending "the baby back to its parents at the end of the visit." While I would like the comfort of assurance that I am expending my effort doing the right things in the right order the right way, these "peaks behind the curtain" are invaluable in helping me understand and accept the forces at play that redirect my energies before I can complete one project or another. Not being treated like a thief or a threat for my efforts to know what is going on behind the curtain, I think, makes me a more effective employee, a more realistic employee, and a more supportive employee.

T.Walpole
T.Walpole

I'm behind the curtain and it is exactly as you say. Thank you for writing this. It was reassuring to hear. It takes a thick skin, especially when your responsibility is for support functions, always the easy scapegoat in any organization.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

and thank you for it. "In fact there are days when I wonder if there is such a thing as a non-dysfunctional organization." This is a hard lesson that applies at such a grand scale that it is worth noting on occasion. I am exposed to the 'politics' of the educational bureaucracy daily, and it is quite enough to keep me happily teaching the web-based classes in order not to have to deal with the 'politics'. On that grand note, all of us (one would hope) being human, we are all dysfunctional to some degree or another. It is improbable in the extreme that any group of people, organized or otherwise would not be dysfunctional to some degree. 6 of 1, half a dozen of the other. Again, a good read.

Ramon Padilla Jr.
Ramon Padilla Jr.

My intention in this post is to give a snapshot of "real life" which is often not mentioned in magazines or text books. In fact, now that I reflect on it, none of the text books during my MBA studies even mentioned "work life." Everything was a "study" on a situation. Cold, sterile and devoid of most of the emotion and politics that made it a situation in the first place. Thus I felt compelled to give a little snapshot of CIO life as I sometimes see it for those that aspire for higher levels of management.

Bill Stronge
Bill Stronge

It always makes me feel a little better when I read articles such as this one to see that we're not alone. I know that back when I was first exposed 'behind the curtain' that I was in shock. My assumption was that all the decisions that had been made were being done with all the necessary information. After being exposed to how a business sometimes needs to run ahead at full speed I now realize hard it would be to have it work that way. Thanks for the nice read Ramon.

four-eyes_z
four-eyes_z

It really hits the spot. No truer words have been spoken when it comes to having the opportunity to be part of upper management. The experience will either make you or break you. Hats off to you sir! (If I had a hat, that is) :)

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

While, I feel like I need to climb the corporate ladder, I see the politics involved and I just cringe. That's for the reality check!! Quite and interesting read!!

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