I have read TechRepublic articles about how to handle staff with poor attitudes, but what if your CIO has the bad attitude? What can IT managers do to change that scenario? It seems to me that more CIOs are “motivating” employees with negative comments, such as ”I can get twice the work for half the money” or ”I created this staff, I can talk to you any way that I want and I can tear this staff apart.” What can a good team leader do when a CIO goes berserk with power?

When an IT manager has a problem employee, there are a variety of options available—anything from gentle coaching to terminating the problem employee. When the problem is above you, the options are much more limited—obviously, you can’t fire your boss.

Think twice before taking the problem to HR
You can take the problem to HR, but you must think carefully before taking this step. With all due respect to my colleagues in HR, they walk a fine line. Yes, they often advocate for employee issues, but they are still a line function, paid for by and accountable to senior management.

While you didn’t indicate if there was any legal issues involved, that is the arena where HR will take the most active role, launching a “formal investigation” and contacting senior management. If you feel the problem has escalated to the point that it has become harassment, you must get HR involved. If anyone on the receiving end of the harassment is a member of a “protected class,” then HR will want to take specific steps immediately.

Beware that if there is no legal issue, HR will very likely contact senior management, as well as the CIO, and your concerns will soon become very public. Before you play that card, you must decide what remedy you want and whether you are willing to absorb the fallout from your complaint.

Going above the CIO’s head
Another option is going above the CIO to his or her boss (most likely the CEO). This is tricky, at best, and can quite possibly be career suicide. You must be extremely adept at reading the loyalties of senior management in a case like this.

The other half of your question—about dealing with a CIO who has “gone berserk with power”—is even trickier to deal with because it’s likely your immediate boss is not an isolated case within the organization. Power grabbing is an overall business trend these days, with CIOs and CFOs making dramatic organizational changes. These changes are not trivial and are most likely not temporary.

Desperate times call for desperate measures
Despite the bleak outlook, there are some solutions you can try (note that these could all backfire if not done correctly):

  1. Consider moving on, though it is still a tough job market.
  2. If you had a good working relationship with the CIO at one time, you might feel comfortable confronting him or her about the problem. I will warn you, however, this isn’t the most successful option the majority of times.
  3. Reach out to the CIO’s boss about the problem behavior. As I’ve mentioned already, this is a big gamble due to the politics in play.
  4. Attempt to build a coalition of peers to force a change at the CIO level. There is no easy way to do this. This action requires that the entire coalition maintain confidentiality and solidarity, so you will need to be very careful if you decide to go this route.

I know the options and potential solutions I’ve indicated aren’t encouraging, but the reality is that the high-level tech executive is someone who is well protected. In many situations, it often comes down to determining how much you can and can’t deal with and making a career decision from that point.

How have you dealt with this issue?

Have you been in a similar situation? If so, how did you cope and what solution, if any, did you find useful? Send us your story and we’ll share member feedback in a follow-up article.